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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Section 138 -No impleading of company after barred by limitation and without complaining sec.138 statutory notice - not curable defect = to implead M/s DAKSHIN GRANITES PVT. LTD. = (1) that a person drew a cheque on an account maintained by him with the banker; (2) that such a cheque when presented to the bank is returned by the bank unpaid; (3) that such a cheque was presented to the bank within a period of six months from the date it was drawn or within the period of its validity whichever is earlier; (4) that the payee demanded in writing from the drawer of the cheque the payment of the amount of money due under the cheque to payee; and (5) such a notice of payment is made within a period of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the information by the payee from the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid. It is obvious from the scheme of Section 138 that each one of the ingredients flows from a document which evidences the existence of such an ingredient. The only other ingredient which is required to be proved to establish the commission of an offence under Section 138 is that inspite of the demand notice referred to above, the drawer of the cheque failed to make the payment within a period of 15 days from the date of the receipt of the demand.- failure to comply with any one of the steps contemplated under Section 138 would not provide “cause of action for prosecution”. Therefore, in the context of a prosecution under Section 138, the concept of taking cognizance of the offence but not the offender is not appropriate = whether the respondent had sufficient cause for not filing the complaint against DAKSHIN within the period prescribed under THE ACT is not examined by either of the courts below. As rightly pointed out, the application, which is the subject matter of the instant appeal purportedly filed invoking Section 319 CrPC, is only a device by which the respondent seeks to initiate prosecution against DAKSHIN beyond the period of limitation stipulated under the Act -No doubt Section 142 authorises the Court to condone the delay in appropriate cases. We find no reason to condone the delay. The justification advanced by the respondent that it is during the course of the trial, the respondent realized that the cheque in question was drawn on the account of DAKSHIN is a manifestly false statement. On the face of the cheque, it is clear that it was drawn on account of DAKSHIN. Admittedly the respondent issued a notice contemplated under clause (b) of the proviso to Section 138 to DAKSHIN. The judgment under appeal is contrary to the language of THE ACT as expounded by this Court in Aneeta Hada (supra) and, therefore, cannot be sustained. The judgment is, accordingly, set aside. The appeal is allowed.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1534 OF 2017
(Arising out of SLP(Crl.) No.1439 of 2017)
N. Harihara Krishnan … Appellant
Versus
J. Thomas … Respondent
J U D G M E N T
Chelameswar, J.
1. Leave Granted
2. M/s. Norton Granites & Spinners (P) Ltd. (hereafter NORTON) sold
three parcels of land by three separate registered sale deeds dated
14.5.2007 to one M/s. Srivari Exports, a partnership firm (hereafter
FIRM). The appellant herein is the managing partner of the FIRM and
the respondent, it appears, is the power of attorney holder for the
managing director of NORTON. It appears from the record that the
appellant is also a director of a company known as M/s. Dakshin
Granites Pvt. Ltd. (hereafter DAKSHIN).
3. The respondent herein filed a complaint on 08.10.2012 bearing CC
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No. 2925 of 2012 on the file of the VII Metropolitan Magistrate, George
Town at Chennai against the appellant herein invoking Sections 138
and 142 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (hereinafter referred to
as “THE ACT”). The substance of the complaint is that the appellant
herein drew a cheque bearing No. 064159 dated 10.8.2012 for a sum of
Rs.39 lakhs (Rs.39,00,000/-) on the Syndicate Bank, Armenian Street,
Chennai in favour of the respondent. According to the complaint, the
said amount of Rs. 39 lakhs is the amount due from the appellant
towards the balance of the sale consideration in connection with the
sale transactions referred to above.
4. The said cheque was presented for collection by the respondent
through his bank (Indian Bank, High Court Branch, Chennai) on
28.8.2012 which was dishonoured on the ground that the account on
which the cheque was drawn had been closed.
5. On 10.9.2012, the respondent issued a notice contemplated under
clause (b) of the proviso to Section 138 of THE ACT. By the said notice,
the appellant was informed that the cheque had been dishonored and
further the appellant was called upon to pay the sum of Rs.39 lakhs
within 15 days from the date of the receipt of the notice. According to
the complaint, the notice was served on the petitioner on 14.9.2012 but
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the petitioner neither responded to the notice nor made the payment.
Hence the complaint.
6. On 19.8.2015, Crl.M.P. No. 6771 of 2015 came to be filed in the
above-mentioned CC No. 2925 of 2012 by the respondent herein
purporting to be an application under Section 319 of the Code of
Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “CrPC”) with prayer as follows:-
“3. In the above circumstances, it is therefore prayed that this Hon’ble
Court may be pleased to implead M/s DAKSHIN GRANITES PVT. LTD.,
NO. 3B, EEBROS Centre, 40, Montieth Road, Chennai – 600 008 as
accused A1, in C.C. No. 2925 of 2012 pending on the file of this Hon’ble
Court and thus render justice.”
7. According to the said application, it came to the notice of the
respondent during the course of cross-examination of the appellant
herein at the trial of the CC No.2925 of 2012 that the cheque in
question was drawn on the account of DAKSHIN and the appellant is
only a signatory on behalf of the DAKSHIN in his capacity as a Director
of DAKSHIN. The respondent had initially failed to lodge the complaint
against DAKSHIN by inadvertence and hence the application.
8. The application was contested by the appellant. The learned
Metropolitan Magistrate by his Order dated 21.4.2016 allowed the said
application. The petitioner carried the matter in Criminal R.C. No. 774
of 2016 to the Madras High Court unsuccessfully. Hence the instant
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SLP.
9. Xerox copies of the three sale deeds are placed before us and
according to the said documents, the sale consideration for the three
sale deeds is Rs. 2,80,000/-, Rs. 2,50,000/- and Rs. 1,20,000/-, in all
Rs. 6,50,000/-. Nonetheless, the respondent filed the complaint stating
that the cheque in question for Rs.39 lakhs was drawn towards the
balance of the sale consideration of the transactions covered by the
above-mentioned three sale deeds. Prima facie, it is very doubtful
whether the cheque was drawn for any amount which is legally due to
the respondent from the appellant.
10. A xerox copy of the cheque is placed before us. The number of the
account on which the cheque was drawn is not very clear from the said
copy. But from the content of the application from out of which the
instant appeal arises and from the xerox copy of the cheque it appears
that it was drawn on the account of DAKSHIN by somebody who claims
to be a Director of DAKSHIN. It is a case of the respondent that the
cheque was signed by the appellant. There appears to be some dispute
regarding the identity of the person who signed the cheque. It can be
seen from para 2 of the complaint, the said cheque was handed over to
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the respondent through “an unknown person at Chennai High Court
premises”.
11. Assuming for the sake of argument that an amount of Rs. 39 lakhs
was due towards the balance of the sale consideration of the
above-mentioned three sales from the FIRM of which the appellant is
said to be the Managing Partner. The cheque in question was drawn by
a private company (DAKSHIN) (a third party to the sale transactions and
such a payment is permissible under the Indian Contract Act) and
allegedly signed by the appellant in his capacity as the Director of
DAKSHIN.
12. The learned Counsel for the appellant argued;
(a) Since the cheque in question was drawn on the account
of DAKSHIN, the person primarily liable for punishment
under Section 138 of THE ACT would be DAKSHIN. The
appellant herein being the alleged signatory in his capacity as
the Director of DAKSHIN would only be vicariously liable (if at
all) for the offence committed by DAKSHIN. In view of the law
declared by this Court in Aneeta Hada1
the prosecution
1
Aneeta Hada v. Godfather Travels & Tours Private Limited, (2012) 5 SCC 661
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against the appellant could not be successfully maintained
without prosecuting DAKSHIN. Since the complaint was
originally lodged only against the appellant, the respondent
resorted to the device of filing an application on 19.8.2015
under Section 319 CrPC to ‘implead’ (in substance summon)
DAKSHIN as an accused/ respondent to the complaint.
(b) Section 142(1)(a) of THE ACT inter alia stipulates that a
complaint regarding the commission of the offence under
Section 138 must be “made within one month of the date on which
the cause of action arises under clause (c) of the proviso to Section 138”.
The application under Section 319 of CrPC by which
DAKSHIN is sought to be impleaded (summoned) is in
substance a complaint against DAKSHIN which is filed some
three years after the expiry of the period of 15 days stipulated
under clause (c) of the proviso to Section 138. Therefore
barred by the stipulation contained in Section 141(1)(b) of
THE ACT. No valid explanation for condoning such a long
delay is offered by the respondent. Both the courts below
erred in coming to the conclusion that once the offence is
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taken cognizance of, the question of delay does not arise.
(c) Section 1382
stipulates inter alia that (i) the payee of the
cheque must give a notice in writing to the drawer of the
cheque within 30 days from the “receipt of the information by him
from the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid”; (ii) the
notice must contain a demand for the payment of the amount
due on the cheque; and (iii) upon the receipt of the notice, if
the drawer of the cheque fails to make payment within 15
days of the receipt of the notice, prosecution could be
launched within one month thereafter. The timelines
stipulated under clauses (a) to (c) of the proviso to Section
138 are mandatory.3
2
“Section 138. Dishonour of cheque for insufficiency, etc., of funds in the account. —Where any cheque drawn by
a person on an account maintained by him with a banker for payment of any amount of money to another person from out of
that account for the discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability, is returned by the bank unpaid, either
because of the amount of money standing to the credit of that account is insufficient to honour the cheque or that it exceeds
the amount arranged to be paid from that account by an agreement made with that bank, such person shall be deemed to
have committed an offence and shall, without prejudice to any other provisions of this Act, be punished with imprisonment
for a term which may be extended to two years, or with fine which may extend to twice the amount of the cheque, or with
both:
Provided that nothing contained in this section shall apply unless-
(a) the cheque has been presented to the bank within a period of six months from the date on which it is
drawn or within the period of its validity, whichever is earlier;
(b) the payee or the holder in due course of the cheque, as the case may be, makes a demand for the payment
of the said amount of money by giving a notice in writing, to the drawer of the cheque, 20 [within thirty days] of the receipt
of information by him from the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid; and
(c) the drawer of such cheque fails to make the payment of the said amount of money to the payee or, as the
case may be, to the holder in due course of the cheque, within fifteen days of the receipt of the said notice.
Explanation.- For the purposes of this section, “debt or other liability” means a legally enforceable debt or other
liability.”
3
7
(d) The (instant) application under Section 319 CrPC came
to be filed (on 19.08.2015) some three years after the
dishonour of the cheque by the bank (on 30.8.2012). If the
respondent were to file complaint under Section 138 against
DAKSHIN on 19.8.2015, such a complaint would be clearly
not maintainable as it would have been far beyond the
permissible time within which a complaint could have been
filed under Section 138 of THE ACT. Therefore, both the
courts below erred in allowing the application.
13. On the other hand, the learned counsel for the respondent
submitted that the trial court and the High Court rightly impleaded the
appellant. The learned counsel submitted that the proviso to clause (b)
of Section 142 of THE ACT enables the Court to take cognizance of the
offence even beyond the prescribed period of limitation, if the
complainant satisfies the Court that he had sufficient cause for not
making the complaint within the period of limitation. The respondent
D. Vinod Shivappa v. Nanda Belliappa, (2006) 6 SCC 456
“14. ...There is good authority to support the proposition that once the complainant, the payee of the cheque, issues
notice to the drawer of the cheque, the cause of action to file a complaint arises on the expiry of the period prescribed for
payment by the drawer of the cheque. If he does not file a complaint within one month of the date on which the cause of
action arises under clause (c) of the proviso to Section 138 of the Act, his complaint gets barred by time.”
C.C. Alavi Haji v. Palapetty Muhammed and Another, (2007) 6 SCC 555
“9. ….It was further observed that once the payee of the cheque issues notice to the drawer of the cheque, the
cause of action to file a complaint arises on the expiry of the period prescribed for payment by the drawer of the cheque.
If he does not file a complaint within one month of the date on which the cause of action arises under Clause (c) of the
proviso to Section 138 of the Act, his complaint gets barred by time. …”
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only got to know that the cheque in question was drawn on the account
of DAKSHIN only during the course of trial. Therefore, the respondent
made out a case for condonation of the delay.
14. It is rather difficult to understand the decision of the trial court.
We are given to understand that the order is made in vernacular and
only a translated copy4
of the same is placed before us. Be that as it
may, the ‘relevant’ portion of the translated copies reads as follows:-
“Hence whether cheque was drawn by company trial on the complaint
can be possible only if company is impleaded in complaint.
Hence as far as this case on hand, without impleading Dakshin Granite
(P) Ltd trial can not be conducted for impleading the company and
conditions as per Section 138 should be fulfilled. As per Section 138
Notice has been sent to Dakshin Granites – hence conditions fulfilled.
It is prayed by complainant that he should be permitted to implead
company and also condone the delay.
As per Section 142, complaint is to be filed with one month which has
been done. Hence as per Section 142(b) no separate petition is
required after cognizance of offence.
The offenders of crime can be decided. To take conginsance it is not
required to take cognizance in the case of each accused.
In view of the above the petition is allowed and I order for impleading
the company and summons to be served.”
15. While examining the legality of the trial court’s order, the High
Court took note of the fact that two applications were filed by the
respondent, one to condone the delay (of 1211 days) and other to
implead (summon?) DAKSHIN invoking Section 319 of the CrPC. The
High Court recorded an interesting finding:-
4
We are not informed whether it is an official translation by either of the courts below or any
one of the learned counsel who appeared in the case or by the parties.
9
“In this case, the present revision is preferred only against the order
passed in Crl.M.P. No. 6771 of 2015 in C.C. No. 2925 of 2012, which
was filed to implead M/s. Dakshin Granites Private Ltd., as an accused
in the private complaint and no appeal or revision was preferred against
the order passed in Crl.M.P. No. 1257 of 2016 by either side.”
16. We say it is an interesting finding because from the translation of
the trial court’s order placed before us, the trial court is silent about the
application for condonation of the delay. On the other hand, the trial
court observed “Hence as per Section 142(b) no separate petition is required after
cognizance of offence.”
After recording such a finding, the High Court proceeded to say;
“…The Trial Court, after considering the arguments of both sides, came
to a conclusion that since the case was already taken on file and
cognizance of the offence was taken, in this case, separate petition to
condone the delay of 1211 days is not necessary and M/s. Dakshin
Granites Private Ltd. was impleaded as an accused. Admittedly,
statutory notice under Section 138(b) of the Negotiable Instruments Act
was issued to M/s. Dakshin Granites Private Ltd., and M/s. Dakshin
Granites Private Ltd., has not preferred any revision before this Court.
Hence, the present petitioner is only the signatory. Even according to
the present petitioner, who is an individual person and who signed the
cheque represents the company.”
The High Court, concluded that as no revision is filed by DAKSHIN
the “revision preferred by the petitioner is not maintainable. No merits in the
petition.”
17. We are of the opinion that it is difficult to understand the
conclusions recorded by both the courts below. They are wholly
illogical, to use a very mild expression.
18. Section 142 of THE ACT inter alia stipulates that no court shall
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take cognizance of any offence punishable under Section 138 unless a
complaint is made within one month of the date on which the cause of
action arises under clause (c) of the proviso to Section 138. The
relevant portion of Section 142 reads as follows:-
“142 Cognizance of offences. —Notwithstanding anything contained in
the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973—
(a) no court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under
section 138 except upon a complaint, in writing, made by the payee or,
as the case may be, the holder in due course of the cheque;
(b) such complaint is made within one month of the date on which
the cause of action arises under clause (c) of the proviso to section 138:
Provided that the cognizance of a complaint may be taken by the
Court after the prescribed period, if the complainant satisfies the Court
that he had sufficient cause for not making a complaint within such
period.”
19. The preliminary facts constituting an offence5
under Section 138 of
the Act are; (i) that a cheque is drawn, and (ii) that cheque is dishonored
by the Bank when presented by the payee. Under the scheme of Section
138 both the drawer of the cheque and the bank upon which the cheque
5
However, this Court in MSR Leathers v. S. Palaniappan and Another, (2013) 1 SCC 177 held;
10. Proviso to Section 138, however, is all important and stipulates three distinct conditions precedent, which must
be satisfied before the dishonour of a cheque can constitute an offence and become punishable. The first condition is that
the cheque ought to have been presented to the bank within a period of six months from the date on which it is drawn or
within the period of its validity, whichever is earlier. The second condition is that the payee or the holder in due course of
the cheque, as the case may be, ought to make a demand for the payment of the said amount of money by giving a notice
in writing, to the drawer of the cheque, within thirty days of the receipt of information by him from the bank regarding the
return of the cheque as unpaid. The third condition is that the drawer of such a cheque should have failed to make
payment of the said amount of money to the payee or as the case may be, to the holder in due course of the cheque within
fifteen days of the receipt of the said notice. It is only upon the satisfaction of all the three conditions mentioned
above and enumerated under the proviso to Section 138 as clauses (a), (b) and (c) thereof that an offence
under Section 138 can be said to have been committed by the person issuing the cheque.
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is drawn are parties against whom the payee of the cheque can have
various legal rights, which may have either civil or criminal
consequences or perhaps both depending upon the facts of a given case.
Section 138 prescribes only one of the consequences, i.e. the
prosecution and punishment of only the drawer of the cheque. It is
possible in a given case that a bank may without any valid justification
decline to honor a cheque drawn on it. For which act of the bank, the
drawer of the cheque may in no way be responsible either in fact or in
law. In such a fact situation, the payee of the cheque may have legal
rights and remedies for the redressal of the injury (if any) caused by the
Bank in addition to his rights against the drawer of the cheque.
20. The offence under Section 138 of THE ACT is capable of being
committed only by the drawer of the cheque. The logic of the High Court
that since the offence is already taken cognizance of, there is no need to
take cognizance of the offence against DAKSHIN is flawed. Section 141
stipulates the liability for the offence punishable under Section 138 of
THE ACT when the person committing such an offence happens to be a
company - in other words when the drawer of the cheque happens to be
a company. Relevant portion of Section 141 reads as follows:-
“Section 141. Offences by companies.—
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(1) If the person committing an offence under section 138 is a company,
every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was in charge
of, and was responsible to the company for the conduct of the business
of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of
the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished
accordingly:”
21. This Court in Aneeta Hada, had an occasion to examine the
question “whether an authorised signatory of a company would be liable for
prosecution under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (for brevity
“the Act”) without the company being arraigned as an accused” and held as
follows:-
“59. In view of our aforesaid analysis, we arrive at the irresistible
conclusion that for maintaining the prosecution under Section 141 of
the Act, arraigning of a company as an accused is imperative. The
other categories of offenders can only be brought in the drag-net on the
touchstone of vicarious liability as the same has been stipulated in the
provision itself. …”
Yet the High Court reached a conclusion that the revision filed by
the petitioner is not maintainable because DAKSHIN did not choose to
challenge the trial court’s order.
The High Court failed to appreciate that the liability of the
appellant (if any in the context of the facts of the present case) is only
statutory because of his legal status as the DIRECTOR of DAKSHIN.
Every person signing a cheque on behalf of a company on whose
account a cheque is drawn does not become the drawer of the cheque.
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Such a signatory is only a person duly authorised to sign the cheque on
behalf of the company/drawer of the cheque. If DAKSHIN/drawer of
the cheque is sought to be summoned for being tried for an offence
under Section 138 of THE ACT beyond the period of limitation
prescribed under THE ACT, the appellant cannot be told in view of the
law declared by this Court in Aneeta Hada that he can make no
grievance of that fact on the ground that DAKSHIN did not make any
grievance of such summoning. It is always open to DAKSHIN to raise
the defense that the initiation of prosecution against it is barred by
limitation. DAKSHIN need not necessarily challenge the summoning
order. It can raise such a defense in the course of trial.
Coming to the view of the High Court that only the offence is taken
cognizance of and there is no need to take cognizance of an offence
accused-wise is an erroneous view in the context of a prosecution under
THE ACT. Most probably the High Court recorded such conclusion
(though not expressly stated) on the basis of the judgment of this Court
in Raghubans Dubey v. State of Bihar, AIR 1967 SC 1167, where it
was stated:
“Para 9. … In our opinion, once cognizance has been taken by the
Magistrate, he takes cognizance of an offence and not the offenders;
once he takes cognizance of an offence it is his duty to find out who the
offenders really are and once he comes to the conclusion that apart from
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the persons sent up by the police some other persons are involved, it is
his duty to proceed against those persons. …”
Such a statement of law was made by this Court in the background of
the scheme of the CrPC.
22. The CrPC is an enactment which is designed to regulate the
procedures governing the investigation of crimes in order to get the
perpetrators of the crime punished. A crime is an act or omission
prohibited by law attracting certain legal consequences like
imprisonment, fine etc. Obviously, acts or omissions constituting
offences/crimes are capable of being committed only by persons either
natural or juridical.
The CrPC imposes a duty on the investigating agencies to gather
evidence necessary to establish the occurrence of a crime and to trace
out the perpetrators of the crime in order to get them punished.
Punishment can be inflicted only by a competent Court but not by the
investigating agency. Courts are authorised to inflict punishment if only
they are satisfied that the evidence gathered by the investigating agency
is sufficient to establish that (1) a crime had been committed; and (2)
the persons charged with the offence (accused) and brought before the
Court by the investigating agency for trial are the perpetrators of the
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crime.
Under the Scheme of the CrPC, any investigating agency (normally
the police) is bound to investigate by following the procedure prescribed
therein once it receives either information regarding the commission of a
cognizable offence or an order from a Magistrate to investigate into the
allegation of the occurrence of a non-cognizable offence and submit a
report under Section 173. Section 173(2)(i)(d) inter alia stipulates that
the report should contain a statement:
“Whether any offence appears to have been committed and if so by
whom?”
The conclusions reached by the police after investigation into the above
two questions are required to be scrutinized by a competent Court. It is
only after the Court is satisfied that the evidence collected by the
investigating agency is sufficient in law to punish the accused, such
accused can be punished. Taking cognizance of an offence by the Court
is one of the initial steps in the process. Thereafter, the investigating
agency is required to collect evidence (investigate) and place the same
before the Court under Section 173 CrPC.
23. The scheme of the prosecution in punishing under Section 138 of
THE ACT is different from the scheme of the CrPC. Section 138 creates
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an offence and prescribes punishment. No procedure for the
investigation of the offence is contemplated. The prosecution is
initiated on the basis of a written complaint made by the payee of a
cheque. Obviously such complaints must contain the factual allegations
constituting each of the ingredients of the offence under Section 138.
Those ingredients are: (1) that a person drew a cheque on an account
maintained by him with the banker; (2) that such a cheque when
presented to the bank is returned by the bank unpaid; (3) that such a
cheque was presented to the bank within a period of six months from
the date it was drawn or within the period of its validity whichever is
earlier; (4) that the payee demanded in writing from the drawer of the
cheque the payment of the amount of money due under the cheque to
payee; and (5) such a notice of payment is made within a period of 30
days from the date of the receipt of the information by the payee from
the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid. It is obvious
from the scheme of Section 138 that each one of the ingredients flows
from a document which evidences the existence of such an ingredient.
The only other ingredient which is required to be proved to establish the
commission of an offence under Section 138 is that inspite of the
demand notice referred to above, the drawer of the cheque failed to
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make the payment within a period of 15 days from the date of the
receipt of the demand. A fact which the complainant can only assert
but not prove, the burden would essentially be on the drawer of the
cheque to prove that he had in fact made the payment pursuant to the
demand.
24. By the nature of the offence under Section 138 of THE ACT, the
first ingredient constituting the offence is the fact that a person drew a
cheque. The identity of the drawer of the cheque is necessarily required
to be known to the complainant (payee) and needs investigation and
would not normally be in dispute unless the person who is alleged to
have drawn a cheque disputes that very fact. The other facts required to
be proved for securing the punishment of the person who drew a cheque
that eventually got dishonoured is that the payee of the cheque did in
fact comply with each one of the steps contemplated under Section 138
of THE ACT before initiating prosecution. Because it is already held by
this Court that failure to comply with any one of the steps contemplated
under Section 138 would not provide “cause of action for prosecution”.
Therefore, in the context of a prosecution under Section 138, the
concept of taking cognizance of the offence but not the offender is not
appropriate. Unless the complaint contains all the necessary factual
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allegations constituting each of the ingredients of the offence under
Section 138, the Court cannot take cognizance of the offence.
Disclosure of the name of the person drawing the cheque is one of the
factual allegations which a complaint is required to contain. Otherwise
in the absence of any authority of law to investigate the offence under
Section 138, there would be no person against whom a Court can
proceed. There cannot be a prosecution without an accused. The
offence under Section 138 is person specific. Therefore, the Parliament
declared under Section 142 that the provisions dealing with taking
cognizance contained in the CrPC should give way to the procedure
prescribed under Section 142. Hence the opening of non-obstante clause
under Section 142. It must also be remembered that Section 142 does
not either contemplate a report to the police or authorise the Court
taking cognizance to direct the police to investigate into the complaint.
25. The question whether the respondent had sufficient cause for not
filing the complaint against DAKSHIN within the period prescribed
under THE ACT is not examined by either of the courts below. As
rightly pointed out, the application, which is the subject matter of the
instant appeal purportedly filed invoking Section 319 CrPC, is only a
device by which the respondent seeks to initiate prosecution against
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DAKSHIN beyond the period of limitation stipulated under the Act.
26. No doubt Section 142 authorises the Court to condone the delay in
appropriate cases. We find no reason to condone the delay. The
justification advanced by the respondent that it is during the course of
the trial, the respondent realized that the cheque in question was drawn
on the account of DAKSHIN is a manifestly false statement. On the face
of the cheque, it is clear that it was drawn on account of DAKSHIN.
Admittedly the respondent issued a notice contemplated under clause
(b) of the proviso to Section 138 to DAKSHIN. The fact is recorded by
the High Court. The relevant portion is already extracted in para 16.
27. The judgment under appeal is contrary to the language of THE ACT
as expounded by this Court in Aneeta Hada (supra) and, therefore,
cannot be sustained. The judgment is, accordingly, set aside. The appeal
is allowed. In the circumstances, the costs is quantified at Rs.
1,00,000/- (Rupees One Lakh Only).
….....................................J.
(J. CHELAMESWAR)
……. ………….....................J.
(S. ABDUL NAZEER)
New Delhi
August 30, 2017
20

Section 14(1)(a) and (b) of the Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958 - Sub-tenancy or sub-letting =whether in the present facts and circumstances of the case the order of eviction passed by the High Court was just and proper?- In the present facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that the original owner-respondent No. 1 herein has proved beyond doubt that the property is in exclusive possession of the sub-tenant and the appellant herein has not been able to deny the claim of sub-tenancy in favour of Respondent No. 2. The absence of evidence and failure to discharge the onus lay heavy on appellant and there could be no presumption other than that the suit premises had been sublet and parted with possession by the appellant herein to the Respondent No. 2.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 11106 OF 2017
(Arising out of Special Leave Petition (C) NO. 7149 OF 2015)
Prem Prakash .... Appellant(s)
Versus
Santosh Kumar Jain & Sons
(HUF) and Another .... Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T
R.K. Agrawal, J.
1) Leave granted.
2) This appeal is directed against the final judgment and order
dated 07.11.2014 passed by the High Court of Delhi at New
Delhi in C.M. (M) No. 478 of 2014 whereby learned single
Judge of the High Court allowed the eviction petition filed by
the original owner-Respondent No. 1 herein while setting aside
the judgments and orders dated 08.09.2011 and 24.03.2014
passed by the Court of Additional Rent Controller, North Delhi
and the Rent Control Tribunal, Delhi, respectively.
1
3) Brief facts:
(a) Shri Santosh Kumar Jain- Respondent No. 1 herein filed
an application for increase of standard rent and eviction of
tenant being Eviction Petition No. 956 of 2007 before the Rent
Controller, Delhi under Section 14(1)(a) and (b) of the Delhi
Rent Control Act, 1958 (in short ‘the DRC Act’) on the ground
that the premises in question, i.e., Shop No. 16 (Private No.
15), Gali Kunjas, Ward No. IV, Dariba Kalan, Delhi 110 006
has been sub-let, assigned and otherwise parted with
possession illegally by the original tenant-the appellant herein
to his sub-tenant-Respondent No. 2 herein, who is in the
unauthorized occupation of the same and is carrying on his
own independent business and also that the original
tenant-the appellant herein is in arrears of rent from
01.01.2002.
(b) Learned Additional Rent Controller, North Delhi, vide
judgment and order dated 08.09.2011 in E.No. 02/2009
dismissed the claim of eviction while directing the appellant
herein to deposit the rent as agreed for preceding 3 (three)
years from the date of filing of the eviction petition.
2
(c) Being aggrieved by the order dated 08.09.2011,
Respondent No. 1 went in appeal before the Rent Control
Tribunal, Delhi. The Rent Control Tribunal, vide judgment
and order dated 24.03.2014 in RCT-203/2013/2011,
dismissed the appeal.
(d) The owner-Respondent No. 1 herein, aggrieved by the
judgments and orders dated 08.09.2011 and 24.03.2014, filed
a petition being C.M. (M) No. 478 of 2014 before the High
Court. Learned single Judge of the High Court, vide judgment
and order dated 07.11.2014, allowed the petition filed by the
owner-Respondent No. 1 herein.
(e) Aggrieved by the judgment and order dated 07.11.2014,
the appellant has preferred this appeal by way of special leave
before this Court.
4) Heard Mr. Braj K. Mishra, learned counsel for the
appellant-tenant and Ms. Bharati Tyagi, learned counsel for
Respondent No.2 and Mr. Satish Kumar Jain – the original
owner, Respondent No. 1 herein, argued in person.
3
Point for consideration:
5) The only point for consideration before this Court is
whether in the present facts and circumstances of the case the
order of eviction passed by the High Court was just and
proper?
Rival Submissions:
6) Learned counsel for the appellant-the tenant contended
before this Court that Respondent No. 2 herein was looking
after the entire small business affairs of the appellant herein
and is using and occupying the suit premises in the capacity
of an employee. Learned counsel further contended that the
appellant herein was paying commission by way of
cash/cheque or as per the convenience and outcome of the
business to Respondent No. 2 in lieu of his services. It is
further contended that Respondent No. 2 herein got the
business cards printed for the promotion of the business of
the appellant herein. The appellant herein is the lawful tenant
and has never parted with the possession or sublet the suit
property either to Respondent No. 2 or to any other person
and no notice of demand as alleged has been served upon him.
4
Learned counsel further contended that Respondent No. 2 is
only a friend of the appellant herein and for this reason only
he was employed and allowed to sit in the suit premises and
no business was being carried out in the name of M/s R.R.
Jewellers from the suit premises by Respondent No. 2 who is
alleged to have changed the firm’s name as “M/s Ashima
Jewellery” later on. It was further contended that even if the
original owner was having knowledge of sub-tenancy of the
suit premises in December, 2001, no action was initiated by
him to vacate the same from the sub-tenant and hence he
failed to prove that Respondent No. 2 is in exclusive
possession of the suit premises and the appellant herein has
divested himself from the physical and legal possession of the
same. Learned counsel for the appellant herein finally
contended that the present petition is not maintainable and
the High Court has committed a grave illegality in allowing the
eviction petition.
7) Shri Santosh Kumar Jain-the original owner, Respondent
No. 1 herein argued in-person and submitted that the
5
appellant herein had sub-let, assigned and parted with the
possession of the suit premises in favour of Respondent No. 2
herein, who is in illegal and unauthorized possession of the
same. Respondent No. 1 further submitted that though the
appellant herein has claimed that the Respondent No. 2 was
his employee and was being paid commission for the job
booked by him, no document has been produced on record to
show that Respondent No. 2 was being paid any salary or
commission by the appellant. Respondent No. 1 further
stressed upon the point that the sub-tenant has admitted to
have fixed a bill board under the name and style of “M/s R.R.
Jewellers” in the suit premises. Further, the sub-tenant of the
appellant herein got printed visiting cards in his name with
the address of the suit premises and the very same fact has
been admitted in the statement given by him. Respondent No.
1 further submitted that, undoubtedly, the onus of proving the
presence of other person in the suit premises is on the owner
and once it is proved, it shifts to the tenant to disapprove the
same. Respondent No. 1 finally submitted that High Court
was right in allowing the eviction petition while setting aside
6
the judgments and orders passed by the Court of Additional
Rent Controller and Rent Control Tribunal holding that the
suit premises was sub-let and the appellant herein had parted
with the possession and prayed that no interference is sought
for by this Court in the case.
Discussion:
8) It would be appropriate to reproduce Section 14 of the
DRC Act in order to arrive at a conclusion in the case which is
as under:-
“14. (1)) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained
in any other law or contract, no order or decree for the
recovery of possession of any premises shall be made by any
court or Controller in favour of the landlord against a tenant:
Provided that the Controller may, on an application made to
him in the prescribed manner, make an order for the
recovery of possession of the premises on one or more of the
following grounds only, namely:-
(a) that the tenant has neither paid nor tendered the (whole
of the arrears of the rent legally recoverable from him within
two months of the date on which a notice of demand for the
arrears of rent has been served on him by the landlord in the
manner provided in Section 106 of the Transfer of Property
Act, 1882.
(b) That the tenant has, on or after the 9th day of June,
1952, sublet, assigned or otherwise parted with the
possession of the whole or any part of the premises without
obtaining the consent in writing of the landlord;…..”
[
7
9) Respondent No. 1 herein-the original owner, filed an
eviction petition on the ground that the property in question
has been sub-let by the original tenant-appellant herein to the
sub-tenant i.e., Respondent No. 2. The tenant denied the
assertion that the property has been assigned to the
sub-tenant stating that Respondent No. 2 is his friend and is
an employee who attends his customers in his absence. It was
further explained that Respondent No. 2 was working on
commission basis in order to send customers to the appellant
herein who was having a shop in an interior location from
where he does polishing and cleaning work of silver items and
for that purpose only he was allowed to sit in the suit
premises.
10) During examination, it has been admitted by the owner
that the first and only rent was received on 26.02.2002 for the
period 01.02.2001 to 31.12.2001 from the tenant. It is evident
from the record that a legal notice dated 10.05.2002 was
served upon the appellant herein that he is in arrears of rent
from 01.01.2002. Though the appellant herein-the original
8
tenant has admitted the relationship of landlord and tenant
between the parties but has denied any sub-letting to any
other person. The tenant has his small workshop nearby the
suit shop where he personally does the work in addition to
attending the customers in the premises in question. It is the
case of the appellant that Respondent No. 2 looks after the
customers of the appellant herein in his absence but the fact
of being paid by way of commission or salary has not been
proved as no evidence have been brought to substantiate this
claim. It is Respondent No. 2 whose duty is to open and close
the shop in his absence and to hand over the keys to the
appellant herein who was residing along with his family on the
first floor of the aforesaid property at the relevant time.
11) Respondent No. 1-the original owner has placed on
record two business cards which do not contain the name of
the appellant herein at all, showing the same address as that
of the property in question in order to prove that Respondent
No. 2 was doing independent business of diamond jewellery,
gold and stones. Out of two cards, one card is in the name of
9
Respondent No. 2 with the printing “Ashima Jewellery,
Diamond Jewellery, Gold & Stones”. Respondent No. 2 has
admitted by way of filing an affidavit that he was doing the
business of manufacturing of diamond jewellery, silver articles
and also silver fancy articles. He has also admitted the
printing of the cards placed on record for the purpose of
placing orders at the said address. He admitted to have doing
business in the name and style of M/s Ashima Jewellary but
denied the claim that earlier he was doing the business in the
name and style of M/s R.R. Jewellers. It was further admitted
that when he started to sit in the suit property, a bill board in
the name of M/s R.R. Jewellers was fixed in the suit property
in the year 1996.
12) A bare perusal of the visiting card of M/s Ashima
Jewellery having the name of Respondent No. 2 clearly proves
that the sub-tenant was neither an employee nor was looking
after the customers of the appellant herein in his absence but
he was carrying on his personal business under such name.
There is no point in denying the fact that why a
1
tenant will allow a person, who is working under him, to print
visiting cards in his (sub-tenant) name for the property in
question.
13) Further, the other visiting card is having the name of
“M/s R.R. Jewellers”. The alleged sub-tenant has denied the
claim in the affidavit filed before the courts below that earlier
he was doing the business in the name and style of M/s R.R.
Jewellers. The respondent-owner has brought on record the
list of subscribers issued by the Delhi Sanchaar Sewa (Pvt.)
Ltd. wherein for R.R. Jewellers, the address mentioned is that
of the suit property and the phone number is exactly the same
as mentioned on the business card of M/s Aashima Jewellery”
i.e., ‘3901361’. Respondent No. 2 has admitted the fact of
doing business in the name of M/s Aashima Jewellery” which
is also evident from the business card used by him having the
address of the suit property and the telephone number
‘3901361’ whereas he denied to have worked under the name
and style of M/s R.R. Jewellers but the very fact is falsified by
the evidence in the form of subscribers list of Delhi Sanchaar
11
Sewa wherein the same telephone number, i.e., ‘3901361’ has
been given. Meaning thereby, Respondent No. 2 was doing
business in the suit premises independently of the appellant
herein.
14) Undoubtedly, the initial burden to prove that the
sub-tenant is in exclusive possession of the property is on the
owner, however, the onus to prove the exclusive possession of
the sub tenant is that of preponderance of probability only and
he has to prove the same prima facie only and if he succeeds
then the burden to rebut the same lies on the tenant.
15) In this regard, it is appropriate to quote a decision of this
Court in Associated Hotels of India Ltd., Delhi vs. S.B.
Sardar Ranjit Singh AIR 1968 SC 933 wherein it was held
that when eviction is sought on the ground of sub-letting, the
onus to prove sub-letting is on the landlord. If the landlord
prima-facie shows that the occupant who was in exclusive
possession of the premises let out for valuable consideration,
it would then be for the tenant to rebut the evidence.
1
16) Again, in Kala and Anr. vs. Madho Parshad Vaidya,
(1998) 6 SCC 573, this Court reiterated the very same
principle. It was observed that the burden of proof of
sub-letting is on the landlord but once he establishes parting
of possession by the tenant to third party, the onus would
shift on the tenant to explain his possession. If he is unable to
discharge that onus, it is permissible for the court to raise an
inference that such possession was for monetary
consideration.
17) In Vaishakhi Ram & Ors. vs. Sanjeev Kumar
Bhatiani (2008) 14 SCC 356, it was held as under:-
“21. It is well settled that the burden of proving sub-letting
is on the landlord but if the landlord proves that the
sub-tenant is in exclusive possession of the suit premises,
then the onus is shifted to the tenant to prove that it was not
a case of sub-letting. Reliance can be placed on the decision
of this Court in Joginder Singh Sodhi v. Amar Kaur.
Therefore, we are in full agreement with the High Court as
well as the courts below that since Appellants 2 to 4 had
been in exclusive possession of the suit shop and Appellant
1 could not prove that it was not a case of sub-letting, the
suit shop had been sub-let by Appellant 1 in favour of
Appellants 2 to 4. Therefore, no interference can be made
with the findings arrived at by the High Court as well as the
courts below on the question of sub-letting.”
1
18) Sub-tenancy or sub-letting comes into existence when
the tenant gives up possession of the tenanted
accommodation, wholly or in part, and puts another person in
exclusive possession thereof. This arrangement comes about
obviously under a mutual agreement or understanding
between the tenant and the person to whom the possession is
so delivered. In this process, the landlord is kept out of the
scene. Rather, the scene is enacted behind the back of the
landlord, concealing the overt acts and transferring possession
clandestinely to a person who is an utter stranger to the
landlord, in the sense that the landlord had not let out the
premises to that person nor had he allowed or consented to
his entering into possession of that person, instead of the
tenant, which ultimately reveals to the landlord that the
tenant to whom the property was let out has put some other
person in possession of that property. In such a situation, it
would be difficult for the landlord to prove, by direct evidence,
the contract or agreement or understanding between the
tenant and the sub-tenant. It would also be difficult for the
landlord to prove, by direct evidence, that the person to whom
1
the property had been sub-let had paid monetary
consideration to the tenant. Payment of rent, undoubtedly, is
an essential element of lease or sub-lease. It may be paid in
cash or in kind or may have been paid or promised to be paid.
It may have been paid in lump sum in advance covering the
period for which the premises is let out or sub-let or it may
have been paid or promised to be paid periodically. Since
payment of rent or monetary consideration may have been
made secretly, the law does not require such payment to be
proved by affirmative evidence and the court is permitted to
draw its own inference upon the facts of the case.
19) In the present facts and circumstances of the case, we
are of the opinion that the original owner-respondent No. 1
herein has proved beyond doubt that the property is in
exclusive possession of the sub-tenant and the appellant
herein has not been able to deny the claim of sub-tenancy in
favour of Respondent No. 2. The absence of evidence and
failure to discharge the onus lay heavy on appellant and there
could be no presumption other than that the suit premises
1
had been sublet and parted with possession by the appellant
herein to the Respondent No. 2.
Conclusion:-
20) In view of the foregoing discussion, we are of the
considered opinion that the High Court was right in setting
aside the orders passed by the lower courts. We do not intend
to interfere in the order passed by the learned single Judge of
the High Court. There is no merit in this appeal and the
appeal is, therefore, dismissed with no order as to costs.
...…………….………………………J.
(R.K. AGRAWAL)
.…....…………………………………J.
(ASHOK BHUSHAN)
NEW DELHI;
AUGUST 30, 2017.
1

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Adhar Card - Right to Privacy

1
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 2012
JUSTICE K S PUTTASWAMY (RETD.),
AND ANR. ..Petitioners
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. ..Respondents
WITH
T.C. (CIVIL) NO 151 OF 2013
T.C. (CIVIL) NO 152 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 833 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 829 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 932 OF 2013
CONMT. PET. (CIVIL) NO 144 OF 2014 IN W.P.(C) NO. 494/2012
T.P.(CIVIL) NO 313 OF 2014
T.P.(CIVIL) NO 312 OF 2014
S.L.P(CRL.) NO.2524/2014
W.P.(CIVIL) NO.37/2015
W.P.(CIVIL) NO.220/2015
REPORTABLE
2
CONMT. PET. (C)NO.674/2015 IN W.P.(C) NO.829/2013
T.P.(CIVIL)NO.921/2015
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.470/2015 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.444/2016 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.608/2016 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
W.P.(CIVIL) NO.797/2016
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.844/2017 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
W.P. (C) NO. 342/ 2017
AND WITH W.P.(C) NO.000372/2017
J U D G M E N T
Dr D Y CHANDRACHUD, J
This judgment has been divided into sections to facilitate analysis. They are :
A The reference
B Decision in M P Sharma
C Decision in Kharak Singh
D Gopalan doctrine: fundamental rights as isolated silos
E Cooper and Maneka: Interrelationship between rights
F Origins of privacy
G Natural and inalienable rights
H Evolution of the privacy doctrine in India
I The Indian Constitution
• Preamble
• Jurisprudence on dignity
3
• Fundamental Rights cases
• No waiver of Fundamental Rights
• Privacy as intrinsic to freedom and liberty
• Discordant Notes : (i) ADM Jabalpur
(ii) Suresh Koushal
J India’s commitments under International law
K Comparative law on privacy
(i) UK decisions
(ii) US Supreme Court decisions
(iii) Constitutional right to privacy in South Africa
(iv) Constitutional right to privacy in Canada
(v) Privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights and
the European Charter
(vi) Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
L Criticisms of the privacy doctrine
a Thomson’s Reductionism
b Posner’s Economic critique
c Bork’s critique
d Feminist critique
M Constituent Assembly and privacy: limits of originalist interpretation
N Is the statutory protection to privacy reason to deny a constitutional right?
O Not an elitist construct
P Not just a common law right
Q Substantive Due Process
R Essential nature of privacy
S Informational privacy
T Conclusions
PART A
4
A The reference
1 Nine judges of this Court assembled to determine whether privacy is a
constitutionally protected value
. The issue reaches out to the foundation of a
constitutional culture based on the protection of human rights and enables this Court
to revisit the basic principles on which our Constitution has been founded and their
consequences for a way of life it seeks to protect. This case presents challenges for
constitutional interpretation. If privacy is to be construed as a protected constitutional
value, it would redefine in significant ways our concepts of liberty and the entitlements
that flow out of its protection.
2 Privacy, in its simplest sense, allows each human being to be left alone in a
core which is inviolable.
Yet the autonomy of the individual is conditioned by her
relationships with the rest of society. Those relationships may and do often pose
questions to autonomy and free choice. The overarching presence of state and nonstate
entities regulates aspects of social existence which bear upon the freedom of
the individual. The preservation of constitutional liberty is, so to speak, work in
progress. Challenges have to be addressed to existing problems. Equally, new
challenges have to be dealt with in terms of a constitutional understanding of where
liberty places an individual in the context of a social order. The emergence of new
challenges is exemplified by this case, where the debate on privacy is being analysed
in the context of a global information based society. In an age where information
technology governs virtually every aspect of our lives, the task before the Court is to
PART A
5
impart constitutional meaning to individual liberty in an interconnected world. While
we revisit the question whether our constitution protects privacy as an elemental
principle, the Court has to be sensitive to the needs of and the opportunities and
dangers posed to liberty in a digital world.

3 A Bench of three judges of this Court, while considering the constitutional
challenge to the Aadhaar card scheme of the Union government
noted in its order
dated 11 August 2015 that the norms for and compilation of demographic biometric
data by government was questioned on the ground that it violates the right to privacy.

The Attorney General for India urged that the existence of a fundamental right of
privacy is in doubt in view of two decisions : the first – M P Sharma v Satish Chandra,
District Magistrate, Delhi1
(“M P Sharma”) was rendered by a Bench of eight
judges and the second, in Kharak Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh2
(“Kharak
Singh”) was rendered by a Bench of six judges. Each of these decisions, in the
submission of the Attorney General, contained observations that the Indian
Constitution does not specifically protect the right to privacy. On the other hand, the
submission of the petitioners was that M P Sharma and Kharak Singh were founded
on principles expounded in A K Gopalan v State of Madras3
(“Gopalan”). Gopalan,
which construed each provision contained in the Chapter on fundamental rights as
embodying a distinct protection, was held not to be good law by an eleven-judge
1
(1954) SCR 1077
2
(1964) 1 SCR 332
3 AIR 1950 SC 27
PART A
6
Bench in Rustom Cavasji Cooper v Union of India4
(“Cooper”). Hence the
petitioners submitted that the basis of the two earlier decisions is not valid. Moreover,
it was also urged that in the seven-judge Bench decision in Maneka Gandhi v Union
of India5
(“Maneka”), the minority judgment of Justice Subba Rao in Kharak Singh
was specifically approved of and the decision of the majority was overruled.
4 While addressing these challenges, the Bench of three judges of this Court took
note of several decisions of this Court in which the right to privacy has been held to
be a constitutionally protected fundamental right. Those decisions include : Gobind
v State of Madhya Pradesh6
(“Gobind”), R Rajagopal v State of Tamil Nadu7
(“Rajagopal”) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India8
(“PUCL”).
These subsequent decisions which affirmed the existence of a constitutionally
protected right of privacy, were rendered by Benches of a strength smaller than those
in M P Sharma and Kharak Singh. Faced with this predicament and having due
regard to the far-reaching questions of importance involving interpretation of the
Constitution, it was felt that institutional integrity and judicial discipline would require
a reference to a larger Bench. Hence the Bench of three learned judges observed in
its order dated 11 August 2015:
“12. We are of the opinion that the cases on hand raise far reaching
questions of importance involving interpretation of the Constitution.
4
(1970) 1 SCC 248
5
(1978) 1 SCC 248
6
(1975) 2 SCC 148
7
(1994) 6 SCC 632
8
(1997) 1 SCC 301
PART A
7
What is at stake is the amplitude of the fundamental rights including
that precious and inalienable right under Article 21. If the
observations made in M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh
(supra) are to be read literally and accepted as the law of this
country, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution
of India and more particularly right to liberty under Article 21 would
be denuded of vigour and vitality. At the same time, we are also of
the opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial discipline
require that pronouncement made by larger Benches of this Court
cannot be ignored by the smaller Benches without appropriately
explaining the reasons for not following the pronouncements made
by such larger Benches.
With due respect to all the learned Judges
who rendered the subsequent judgments - where right to privacy is
asserted or referred to their Lordships concern for the liberty of
human beings, we are of the humble opinion that there appears to
be certain amount of apparent unresolved contradiction in the law
declared by this Court.
13. Therefore, in our opinion to give a quietus to the kind of
controversy raised in this batch of cases once for all, it is better that
the ratio decidendi of M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh
(supra) is scrutinized and the jurisprudential correctness of the
subsequent decisions of this Court where the right to privacy is
either asserted or referred be examined and authoritatively decided
by a Bench of appropriate strength.”

5 On 18 July 2017, a Constitution Bench presided over by the learned Chief
Justice considered it appropriate that the issue be resolved by a Bench of nine judges.
The order of the Constitution Bench reads thus:
“During the course of the hearing today, it seems that it has become
essential for us to determine whether there is any fundamental right
of privacy under the Indian Constitution.
The determination of this
question would essentially entail whether the decision recorded by
this Court in M.P. Sharma and Ors. vs. Satish Chandra, District
Magistrate, Delhi and Ors. - 1950 SCR 1077 by an eight-Judge
Constitution Bench, and also, in Kharak Singh vs. The State of
U.P. and Ors. - 1962 (1) SCR 332 by a six-Judge Constitution
Bench, that there is no such fundamental right, is the correct
expression of the constitutional position.

PART A
8
Before dealing with the matter any further, we are of the view that
the issue noticed hereinabove deserves to be placed before the
nine-Judge Constitution Bench. List these matters before the NineJudge
Constitution Bench on 19.07.2017.”
6 During the course of hearing, we have been ably assisted on behalf of the
petitioners by Mr Gopal Subramanium, Mr Kapil Sibal, Mr Arvind Datar, Mr Shyam
Divan, Mr Anand Grover, Ms Meenakshi Arora, Mr Sajan Poovayya and Mr Jayant
Bhushan, learned senior counsel. Mr J S Attri, learned senior counsel supported them
on behalf of the State of Himachal Pradesh. On behalf of the Union of India, the Court
has had the benefit of the erudite submissions of Mr K K Venugopal, Attorney General
for India. He has been ably supported by Mr Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor
General, Mr Rakesh Dwivedi, senior counsel for the State of Gujarat, Mr Aryama
Sundaram for the State of Maharashtra, Mr Gopal Sankaranarayanan and Dr Arghya
Sengupta respectively. While some state governments have supported the stand of
the Union government, others have supported the petitioners.
7 The correctness of the decisions in M P Sharma and Kharak Singh, is to be
evaluated during the course of the reference. Besides, the jurisprudential correctness
of subsequent decisions holding the right to privacy to be a constitutionally protected
right is to be determined. The basic question whether privacy is a right protected
under our Constitution requires an understanding of what privacy means. For it is
when we understand what interests or entitlements privacy safeguards, that we can
determine whether the Constitution protects privacy. The contents of privacy need to
PART B
9
be analysed, not by providing an exhaustive enunciation or catalogue of what it
includes but by indicating its broad contours. The Court has been addressed on
various aspects of privacy including : (i) Whether there is a constitutionally protected
right to privacy; (ii) If there is a constitutionally protected right, whether this has the
character of an independent fundamental right or whether it arises from within the
existing guarantees of protected rights such as life and personal liberty; (iii) the
doctrinal foundations of the claim to privacy; (iv) the content of privacy; and (v) the
nature of the regulatory power of the state.
B Decision in M P Sharma
8 An investigation was ordered by the Union government under the Companies
Act into the affairs of a company which was in liquidation on the ground that it had
made an organized attempt to embezzle its funds and to conceal the true state of its
affairs from the share-holders and on the allegation that the company had indulged in
fraudulent transactions and falsified its records. Offences were registered and search
warrants were issued during the course of which, records were seized. The challenge
was that the searches violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners under Article
19(1)(f) and Article 20(3) of the Constitution. The former challenge was rejected. The
question which this Court addressed was whether there was a contravention of Article
20(3). Article 20(3) mandates that no person accused of an offence shall be compelled
to be a witness against himself. Reliance was placed on a judgment9 of the US
9 Boyd v. United States, 116 US 616 (1886)
PART B
10
Supreme Court holding that obtaining incriminating evidence by an illegal search and
seizure violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the American Constitution. While
tracing the history of Indian legislation, this Court observed that provisions for search
were contained in successive enactments of the Criminal Procedure Code. Justice
Jagannadhadas, speaking for the Bench, held that a search or seizure does not
infringe the constitutional right guaranteed by Article 20(3) of the Constitution:
“…there is no basis in the Indian law for the assumption that a search
or seizure of a thing or document is in itself to be treated as compelled
production of the same. Indeed a little consideration will show that the
two are essentially different matters for the purpose relevant to the
present discussion. A notice to produce is addressed to the party
concerned and his production in compliance therewith constitutes a
testimonial act by him within the meaning of Article 20(3) as above
explained. But a search warrant is addressed to an officer of the
Government, generally a police officer. Neither the search nor the
seizure are acts of the occupier of the searched premises. They are
acts of another to which he is obliged to submit and are, therefore, not
his testimonial acts in any sense.”10
9 Having held that the guarantee against self-incrimination is not offended by a
search and seizure, the Court observed that :
“A power of search and seizure is in any system of jurisprudence
an overriding power of the State for the protection of social security
and that power is necessarily regulated by law. When the
Constitution makers have thought fit not to subject such
regulation to constitutional limitations by recognition of a
fundamental right to privacy, analogous to the Fourth
Amendment, we have no justification to import it, into a totally
different fundamental right, by some process of strained
construction. Nor is it legitimate to assume that the constitutional
10 MP Sharma (Supra note 1), at page 1096
PART C
11
protection under Article 20(3) would be defeated by the statutory
provisions for searches.”11
(emphasis supplied)
10 These observations – to be more precise in one sentence - indicating that the
Constitution makers did not subject the regulation by law of the power of search and
seizure to a fundamental right of privacy, similar to the Fourth amendment of the US
Constitution, have been pressed in aid to question the existence of a protected right
to privacy under our Constitution.
C Decision in Kharak Singh
11 After being challaned in a case of dacoity in 1941, Kharak Singh was released
for want of evidence. But the police compiled a “history sheet” against him. ‘History
sheets’ were defined in Regulation 228 of Chapter XX of the U P Police Regulations
as “the personal records of criminals under surveillance”. Kharak Singh, who was
subjected to regular surveillance, including midnight knocks, moved this Court for a
declaration that his fundamental rights were infringed. Among the measures of
surveillance contemplated by Regulation 236 were the following:
“(a) Secret picketing of the house or approaches to the houses of
suspects;
(b) domiciliary visits at night;
(c) thorough periodical inquiries by officers not below the rank of
sub-inspector into repute, habits, associations, income, expenses
and occupation;
(d) the reporting by constables and chaukidars of movements and
absences from home;
11 Ibid, at page 1096-97
PART C
12
(c) the verification of movements and absences by means of inquiry
slips;
(f) the collection and record on a history-sheet of all information
bearing on conduct.”
12 This Court held that the freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India,
guaranteed by Article 19(1)(d) was not infringed by a midnight knock on the door of
the petitioner since “his locomotion is not impeded or prejudiced in any manner”.
13 When the decision in Kharak Singh was handed down, the principles
governing the inter-relationship between the rights protected by Article 19 and the
right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 were governed by the judgment in
Gopalan. Gopalan considered each of the articles in the Chapter on fundamental
rights as embodying distinct (as opposed to over-lapping) freedoms. Hence in Kharak
Singh, the Court observed :
“In view of the very limited nature of the question before us it is
unnecessary to pause to consider either the precise relationship
between the “liberties” in Article 19(1)(a) & (d) on the one hand and
that in Article 21 on the other, or the content and significance of the
words “procedure established by law” in the latter Article, both of
which were the subject of elaborate consideration by this Court
in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras.”12
14 The decision in Kharak Singh held that clause (b) of Regulation 236 which
provided for domiciliary visits at night was violative of Article 21. The Court observed:
“Is then the word “personal liberty” to be construed as excluding
from its purview an invasion on the part of the police of the sanctity
12 Kharak Singh (Supra note 2), at page 345
PART C
13
of a man's home and an intrusion into his personal security and his
right to sleep which is the normal comfort and a dire necessity for
human existence even as an animal? It might not be inappropriate
to refer here to the words of the preamble to the Constitution that it
is designed to “assure the dignity of the individual” and therefore of
those cherished human values as the means of ensuring his full
development and evolution. We are referring to these objectives of
the framers merely to draw attention to the concepts underlying the
constitution which would point to such vital words as “personal
liberty” having to be construed in a reasonable manner and to be
attributed that sense which would promote and achieve those
objectives and by no means to stretch the meaning of the phrase to
square with any pre-conceived notions or doctrinaire constitutional
theories.”13
15 In taking this view, Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar, speaking for a majority of five
judges, relied upon the judgment of Justice Frankfurter, speaking for the US Supreme
Court in Wolf v Colorado14, which held :
“The security of one's privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the
police … is basic to a free society…
We have no hesitation in saying that were a State affirmatively to
sanction such police incursion into privacy it would run counter to
the guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.”15 (emphasis supplied)
While the Court observed that the Indian Constitution does not contain a guarantee
similar to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, it proceeded to hold that :
“Nevertheless, these extracts would show that an unauthorised
intrusion into a person's home and the disturbance caused to
him thereby, is as it were the violation of a common law right of
a man an ultimate essential of ordered liberty, if not of the very
13 Ibid, at pages 347-348
14 338 US 25 (1949)
15 Cited in Kharak Singh (Supra note 2), at page 348
PART C
14
concept of civilisation. An English Common Law maxim asserts that
“every man's house is his castle” and in Semayne case [5 Coke
91 : 1 Sm LC (13th Edn) 104 at p. 105] where this was applied, it
was stated that “the house of everyone is to him as his castle
and fortress as well as for his defence against injury and violence
as for his repose”. We are not unmindful of the fact that Semayne
case [(1604) 5 Coke 91 : 1 Sm LC (13th Edn) 104 at p. 105] was
concerned with the law relating to executions in England, but the
passage extracted has a validity quite apart from the context of the
particular decision. It embodies an abiding principle which
transcends mere protection of property rights and expounds a
concept of “personal liberty” which does not rest on any element
of feudalism or on any theory of freedom which has ceased to be of
value.”16
(emphasis supplied)
16 Kharak Singh regards the sanctity of the home and the protection against
unauthorized intrusion an integral element of “ordered liberty”. This is comprised in
‘personal liberty’ guaranteed by Article 21. The decision invalidated domiciliary visits
at night authorised by Regulation 236 (b), finding them to be an unauthorized intrusion
into the home of a person and a violation of the fundamental right to personal liberty.
However, while considering the validity of clauses (c),(d) and (e) which provided for
periodical enquiries, reporting by law enforcement personnel and verification of
movements, this Court held as follows :
“…the freedom guaranteed by Article 19(1)(d) is not infringed by a
watch being kept over the movements of the suspect. Nor do we
consider that Article 21 has any relevance in the context as was
sought to be suggested by learned Counsel for the petitioner. As
already pointed out, the right of privacy is not a guaranteed right
under our Constitution and therefore the attempt to ascertain
the movements of an individual which is merely a manner in
16 Ibid, at page 349
PART C
15
which privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a
fundamental right guaranteed by Part III.”17 (emphasis supplied)
In the context of clauses (c), (d) and (e), the above extract indicates the view of the
majority that the right of privacy is not guaranteed under the Constitution.
17 Justice Subba Rao dissented. Justice Subba Rao held that the rights conferred
by Part III have overlapping areas. Where a law is challenged as infringing the right
to freedom of movement under Article 19(1)(d) and the liberty of the individual under
Article 21, it must satisfy the tests laid down in Article 19(2) as well as the requirements
of Article 21. Justice Subba Rao held that :
“No doubt the expression “personal liberty” is a comprehensive one
and the right to move freely is an attribute of personal liberty. It is
said that the freedom to move freely is carved out of personal liberty
and, therefore, the expression “personal liberty” in Article 21
excludes that attribute. In our view, this is not a correct approach.
Both are independent fundamental rights, though there is
overlapping. There is no question of one being carved out of
another. The fundamental right of life and personal liberty have
many attributes and some of them are found in Article 19. If a
person's fundamental right under Article 21 is infringed, the State
can rely upon a law to sustain the action; but that cannot be a
complete answer unless the said law satisfies the test laid down in
Article 19(2) so far as the attributes covered by Article 19(1) are
concerned. In other words, the State must satisfy that both the
fundamental rights are not infringed by showing that there is a law
and that it does amount to a reasonable restriction within the
meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. But in this case no such
defence is available, as admittedly there is no such law. So the
petitioner can legitimately plead that his fundamental rights both
under Article 19(1)(d) and Article 21 are infringed by the State.”18
17 Ibid, at page 351
18 Ibid, at pages 356-357
PART C
16
18 Justice Subba Rao held that Article 21 embodies the right of the individual to
be free from restrictions or encroachments. In this view, though the Constitution does
not expressly declare the right to privacy as a fundamental right, such a right is
essential to personal liberty. The dissenting opinion places the matter of principle as
follows:
“In an uncivilized society where there are no inhibitions, only
physical restraints may detract from personal liberty, but as
civilization advances the psychological restraints are more effective
than physical ones. The scientific methods used to condition a
man's mind are in a real sense physical restraints, for they
engender physical fear channelling one's actions through
anticipated and expected grooves. So also the creation of
conditions which necessarily engender inhibitions and fear
complexes can be described as physical restraints. Further, the
right to personal liberty takes in not only a right to be free from
restrictions placed on his movements, but also free from
encroachments on his private life. It is true our Constitution does
not expressly declare a right to privacy as a fundamental right,
but the said right is an essential ingredient of personal liberty.
Every democratic country sanctifies domestic life; it is expected to
give him rest, physical happiness, peace of mind and security. In
the last resort, a person's house, where he lives with his family, is
his “castle”; it is his rampart against encroachment on his personal
liberty. The pregnant words of that famous Judge, Frankfurter
J., in Wolf v. Colorado [[1949] 238 US 25] pointing out the
importance of the security of one's privacy against arbitrary
intrusion by the police, could have no less application to an
Indian home as to an American one. If physical restraints on a
person's movements affect his personal liberty, physical
encroachments on his private life would affect it in a larger degree.
Indeed, nothing is more deleterious to a man's physical happiness
and health than a calculated interference with his privacy. We
would, therefore, define the right of personal liberty in Article 21 as
a right of an individual to be free from restrictions or encroachments
on his person, whether those restrictions or encroachments are
directly imposed or indirectly brought about by calculated
measures. If so understood, all the acts of surveillance under
PART D
17
Regulation 236 infringe the fundamental right of the petitioner under
Article 21 of the Constitution.”19
(emphasis supplied)
Significantly, both Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar for the majority and Justice Subba
Rao in his dissent rely upon the observations of Justice Frankfurter in Wolf v
Colorado which specifically advert to privacy. The majority, while relying upon them
to invalidate domiciliary visits at night, regards the sanctity of the home as part of
ordered liberty. In the context of other provisions of the regulation, the majority
declines to recognise a right of privacy as a constitutional protection. Justice Subba
Rao recognised a constitutional by protected right to privacy, considering it as an
ingredient of personal liberty.
D Gopalan doctrine : fundamental rights as isolated silos
19 When eight judges of this Court rendered the decision in M P Sharma in 1954
and later, six judges decided the controversy in Kharak Singh in 1962, the ascendant
and, even well established, doctrine governing the fundamental rights contained in
Part III was founded on the Gopalan principle. In Gopalan, Chief Justice Kania,
speaking for a majority of five of the Bench of six judges, construed the relationship
between Articles 19 and 21 to be one of mutual exclusion. In this line of enquiry, what
was comprehended by Article 19 was excluded from Article 21. The seven freedoms
of Article 19 were not subsumed in the fabric of life or personal liberty in Article 21.
19 Ibid, at pages 358-359
PART D
18
The consequence was that a law which curtailed one of the freedoms guaranteed by
Article 19 would be required to answer the tests of reasonableness prescribed by
clauses 2 to 6 of Article 19 and those alone. In the Gopalan perspective, free speech
and expression was guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) and was hence excluded from
personal liberty under Article 21. Article 21 was but a residue. Chief Justice Kania
held :
“Reading Article 19 in that way it appears to me that the concept of
the right to move freely throughout the territory of India is an entirely
different concept from the right to “personal liberty” contemplated
by Article 21. “Personal liberty” covers many more rights in one
sense and has a restricted meaning in another sense. For instance,
while the right to move or reside may be covered by the expression,
“personal liberty” the right to freedom of speech (mentioned in
Article 19(1)(a)) or the right to acquire, hold or dispose of property
(mentioned in 19(1)(f)) cannot be considered a part of
the personal liberty of a citizen. They form part of the liberty of a
citizen but the limitation imposed by the word “personal” leads me
to believe that those rights are not covered by the expression
personal liberty. So read there is no conflict between Articles 19 and
21. The contents and subject-matters of Articles 19 and 21 are thus
not the same and they proceed to deal with the rights covered by
their respective words from totally different angles. As already
mentioned in respect of each of the rights specified in sub-clauses
of Article 19(1) specific limitations in respect of each is provided,
while the expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 is generally
controlled by the general expression “procedure established by
law”.”20
‘Procedure established by law’ under Article 21 was, in this view, not capable of being
expanded to include the ‘due process of law’. Justice Fazl Ali dissented. The dissent
20 Gopalan (Supra note 3), at pages 36-37
PART D
19
adopted the view that the fundamental rights are not isolated and separate but protect
a common thread of liberty and freedom:
“To my mind, the scheme of the Chapter dealing with the
fundamental rights does not contemplate what is attributed to it,
namely, that each article is a code by itself and is independent of
the others. In my opinion, it cannot be said that Articles 19,20, 21
and 22 do not to some extent overlap each other. The case of a
person who is convicted of an offence will come under Articles 20
and 21 and also under Article 22 so far as his arrest and detention
in custody before trial are concerned. Preventive detention, which
is dealt with an Article 22, also amounts to deprivation of personal
liberty which is referred to in Article 21, and is a violation of the right
of freedom of movement dealt with in Article 19(1)(d)…
It seems clear that the addition of the word “personal” before
“liberty” in Article 21 cannot change the meaning of the words used
in Article 19, nor can it put a matter which is inseparably bound up
with personal liberty beyond its place...”21
20 In Satwant Singh Sawhney v D Ramarathnam22 (“Satwant Singh
Sawhney”), Justice Hidayatullah, speaking for himself and Justice R S Bachawat, in
the dissenting view noticed the clear lines of distinction between the dissent of Justice
Subba Rao and the view of the majority in Kharak Singh. The observations of Justice
Hidayatullah indicate that if the right of locomotion is embodied by Article 21 of which
one aspect is covered by Article 19(1)(d), that would in fact advance the minority view
in Kharak Singh:
“Subba Rao J. (as he then was) read personal liberty as the
antithesis of physical restraint or coercion and found that Articles
19(1) and 21 overlapped and Article 19(1)(d) was not carved out of
personal liberty in Article 21. According to him, personal liberty
could be curtailed by law, but that law must satisfy the test in Article
21 Ibid, at pages 52-53
22 (1967) 3 SCR 525
PART E
20
19(2) in so far as the specific rights in Article 19(1)(3) are
concerned. In other words, the State must satisfy that both the
fundamental rights are not infringed by showing that there is a law
and that it does not amount to an unreasonable restriction within
the meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. As in that case
there was no law, fundamental rights, both under Article 19(1)(d)
and Article 21 were held to be infringed. The learned Chief Justice
has read into the decision of the Court a meaning which it does not
intend to convey. He excludes from Article 21 the right to free
motion and locomotion within the territories of India and puts the
right to travel abroad in Article 21. He wants to see a law and if his
earlier reasoning were to prevail, the law should stand the test of
Article 19(2). But since clause (2) deals with matters in Article 19(1)
already held excluded, it is obvious that it will not apply. The law
which is made can only be tested on the ground of articles other
than Article 19 such as Articles 14, 20 and 22 which alone bears
upon this matter. In other words, the majority decision of the Court
in this case has rejected Ayyangar J.'s view and accepted the view
of the minority in Kharak Singh case…
This view obviously clashes with the reading of Article 21 in Kharak
Singh case, because there the right of motion and locomotion was
held to be excluded from Article 21. In other words, the present
decision advances the minority view in Kharak Singh case above
the majority view stated in that case.”23
E Cooper and Maneka : Interrelationship between rights
21 The theory that the fundamental rights are water-tight compartments was
discarded in the judgment of eleven judges of this Court in Cooper. Gopalan had
adopted the view that a law of preventive detention would be tested for its validity only
with reference to Article 22, which was a complete code relating to the subject.
Legislation on preventive detention did not, in this view, have to meet the touchstone
of Article 19(1)(d). The dissenting view of Justice Fazl Ali in Gopalan was noticed by
23 Ibid, at page 554
PART E
21
Justice J C Shah, speaking for this Court, in Cooper. The consequence of the
Gopalan doctrine was that the protection afforded by a guarantee of personal freedom
would be decided by the object of the State action in relation to the right of the
individual and not upon its effect upon the guarantee. Disagreeing with this view, the
Court in Cooper held thus :
”…it is necessary to bear in mind the enunciation of the guarantee
of fundamental rights which has taken different forms. In some
cases it is an express declaration of a guaranteed right: Articles
29(1), 30(1), 26, 25 and 32; in others to ensure protection of
individual rights they take specific forms of restrictions on State
action — legislative or executive — Articles 14, 15, 16, 20, 21,
22(1), 27 and 28; in some others, it takes the form of a positive
declaration and simultaneously enunciates the restriction thereon:
Articles 19(1) and 19(2) to (6); in some cases, it arises as an
implication from the delimitation of the authority of the State, e.g.
Articles 31(1) and 31(2); in still others, it takes the form of a general
prohibition against the State as well as others: Articles 17, 23 and
24. The enunciation of rights either express or by implication
does not follow a uniform pattern. But one thread runs through
them: they seek to protect the rights of the individual or groups
of individuals against infringement of those rights within
specific limits. Part III of the Constitution weaves a pattern of
guarantees on the texture of basic human rights. The
guarantees delimit the protection of those rights in their
allotted fields: they do not attempt to enunciate distinct
rights.”24 (emphasis supplied)
22 The abrogation of the Gopalan doctrine in Cooper was revisited in a sevenjudge
Bench decision in Maneka. Justice P N Bhagwati who delivered the leading
opinion of three Judges held that the judgment in Cooper affirms the dissenting
24 Cooper (Supra note 4), at page 289 (para 52)
PART E
22
opinion of Justice Subba Rao (in Kharak Singh) as expressing the valid constitutional
position. Hence in Maneka, the Court held that:
“It was in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P.[AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1964)
1 SCR 332 : (1963) 2 Cri LJ 329] that the question as to the proper
scope and meaning of the expression “personal liberty” came up
pointedly for consideration for the first time before this Court. The
majority of the Judges took the view “that “personal liberty” is used
in the article as a compendious term to include within itself all the
varieties of rights which go to make up the “personal liberties” of
man other than those dealt with in the several clauses of Article
19(1). In other words, while Article 19(1) deals with particular
species or attributes of that freedom, ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21
takes in and comprises the residue. The minority Judges, however,
disagreed with this view taken by the majority and explained their
position in the following words: “No doubt the expression ‘personal
liberty’ is a comprehensive one and the right to move freely is an
attribute of personal liberty. It is said that the freedom to move freely
is carved out of personal liberty and, therefore, the expression
‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 excludes that attribute. In our view,
this is not a correct approach. Both are independent fundamental
rights, though there is overlapping. There is no question of one
being carved out of another. The fundamental right of life and
personal liberty has many attributes and some of them are found in
Article 19. If a person's fundamental right under Article 21 is
infringed, the State can rely upon a law to sustain the action, but
that cannot be a complete answer unless the said law satisfies the
test laid down in Article 19(2) so far as the attributes covered by
Article 19(1) are concerned.” There can be no doubt that in view
of the decision of this Court in R.C. Cooper v. Union of
India [(1970) 2 SCC 298 : (1971) 1 SCR 512] the minority view
must be regarded as correct and the majority view must be
held to have been overruled.”25
(emphasis supplied)
23 Following the decision in Maneka, the established constitutional doctrine is that
the expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 covers a variety of rights, some of which
25 Maneka (Supra Note 5), at page 278 (para 5)
PART E
23
‘have been raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights’ and given additional
protection under Article 19. Consequently, in Satwant Singh Sawhney, the right to
travel abroad was held to be subsumed within Article 21 as a consequence of which
any deprivation of that right could be only by a ‘procedure established by law’. Prior
to the enactment of the Passports Act, 1967, there was no law regulating the right to
travel abroad as a result of which the order of the Passport Officer refusing a passport
was held to be invalid. The decision in Maneka carried the constitutional principle of
the over-lapping nature of fundamental rights to its logical conclusion.
Reasonableness which is the foundation of the guarantee against arbitrary state
action under Article 14 infuses Article 21. A law which provides for a deprivation of life
or personal liberty under Article 21 must lay down not just any procedure but a
procedure which is fair, just and reasonable.
24 The decisions in M P Sharma and Kharak Singh adopted a doctrinal position
on the relationship between Articles 19 and 21, based on the view of the majority in
Gopalan. This view stands abrogated particularly by the judgment in Cooper and the
subsequent statement of doctrine in Maneka. The decision in Maneka, in fact,
expressly recognized that it is the dissenting judgment of Justice Subba Rao in
Kharak Singh which represents the exposition of the correct constitutional principle.
The jurisprudential foundation which held the field sixty three years ago in M P
Sharma and fifty five years ago in Kharak Singh has given way to what is now a
settled position in constitutional law. Firstly, the fundamental rights emanate from
basic notions of liberty and dignity and the enumeration of some facets of liberty as
PART E
24
distinctly protected rights under Article 19 does not denude Article 21 of its expansive
ambit. Secondly, the validity of a law which infringes the fundamental rights has to be
tested not with reference to the object of state action but on the basis of its effect on
the guarantees of freedom. Thirdly, the requirement of Article 14 that state action
must not be arbitrary and must fulfil the requirement of reasonableness, imparts
meaning to the constitutional guarantees in Part III.
25 The doctrinal invalidation of the basic premise underlying the decisions in M P
Sharma and Kharak Singh still leaves the issue of whether privacy is a right protected
by Part III of the Constitution open for consideration. There are observations in both
decisions that the Constitution does not contain a specific protection of the right to
privacy. Presently, the matter can be looked at from the perspective of what actually
was the controversy in the two cases. M P Sharma was a case where a law
prescribing a search to obtain documents for investigating into offences was
challenged as being contrary to the guarantee against self-incrimination in Article
20(3). The Court repelled the argument that a search for documents compelled a
person accused of an offence to be witness against himself. Unlike a notice to produce
documents, which is addressed to a person and whose compliance would constitute
a testimonial act, a search warrant and a seizure which follows are not testimonial
acts of a person to whom the warrant is addressed, within the meaning of Article 20(3).
The Court having held this, the controversy in M P Sharma would rest at that. The
observations in M P Sharma to the effect that the constitution makers had not thought
it fit to subject the regulatory power of search and seizure to constitutional limitations
PART E
25
by recognising a fundamental right of privacy (like the US Fourth amendment), and
that there was no justification to impart it into a ‘totally different fundamental right’ are
at the highest, stray observations.
26 The decision in M P Sharma held that in the absence of a provision like the
Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, a right to privacy cannot be read into the
Indian Constitution. The decision in M P Sharma did not decide whether a
constitutional right to privacy is protected by other provisions contained in the
fundamental rights including among them, the right to life and personal liberty under
Article 21. Hence the decision cannot be construed to specifically exclude the
protection of privacy under the framework of protected guarantees including those in
Articles 19 or 21. The absence of an express constitutional guarantee of privacy still
begs the question whether privacy is an element of liberty and, as an integral part of
human dignity, is comprehended within the protection of life as well.
27 The decision in Kharak Singh is noteworthy because while invalidating
Regulation 236(b) of the Police Regulations which provided for nightly domiciliary
visits, the majority construed this to be an unauthorized intrusion into a person’s home
and a violation of ordered liberty. While arriving at this conclusion, the majority
placed reliance on the privacy doctrine enunciated by Justice Frankfurter, speaking
for the US Supreme Court in Wolf v Colorado (the extract from Wolf cited in the
majority judgment specifically adverts to ‘privacy’ twice). Having relied on this doctrine
PART F
26
to invalidate domiciliary visits, the majority in Kharak Singh proceeded to repel the
challenge to other clauses of Regulation 236 on the ground that the right of privacy is
not guaranteed under the Constitution and hence Article 21 had no application. This
part of the judgment in Kharak Singh is inconsistent with the earlier part of the
decision. The decision of the majority in Kharak Singh suffers from an internal
inconsistency.
F Origins of privacy
28 An evaluation of the origins of privacy is essential in order to understand
whether (as the Union of India postulates), the concept is so amorphous as to defy
description. The submission of the government is that the Court cannot recognize a
juristic concept which is so vague and uncertain that it fails to withstand constitutional
scrutiny. This makes it necessary to analyse the origins of privacy and to trace its
evolution.
29 The Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of a division between the public sphere
of political affairs (which he termed the polis) and the personal sphere of human life
(termed oikos). This dichotomy may provide an early recognition of “a confidential
zone on behalf of the citizen”26. Aristotle’s distinction between the public and private
realms can be regarded as providing a basis for restricting governmental authority to
activities falling within the public realm. On the other hand, activities in the private
26 Michael C. James, “A Comparative Analysis of the Right to Privacy in the United States, Canada and Europe”,
Connecticut Journal of International Law (Spring 2014), Vol. 29, Issue 2, at page 261
PART F
27
realm are more appropriately reserved for “private reflection, familial relations and
self-determination”27
.
30 At a certain level, the evolution of the doctrine of privacy has followed the public
– private distinction. William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of
England (1765) spoke about this distinction while dividing wrongs into private wrongs
and public wrongs. Private wrongs are an infringement merely of particular rights
concerning individuals and are in the nature of civil injuries. Public wrongs constitute
a breach of general and public rights affecting the whole community and according to
him, are called crimes and misdemeanours.
31 John Stuart Mill in his essay, ‘On Liberty’ (1859) gave expression to the need
to preserve a zone within which the liberty of the citizen would be free from the
authority of the state. According to Mill :
“The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable
to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely
concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over
himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”28
While speaking of a “struggle between liberty and authority”29, Mill posited that the
tyranny of the majority could be reined by the recognition of civil rights such as the
individual right to privacy, free speech, assembly and expression.
27 Ibid, at page 262
28 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Batoche Books (1859), at page 13
29 Ibid, at page 6
PART F
28
32 Austin in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1869) spoke of the distinction
between the public and the private realms : jus publicum and jus privatum.
The distinction between the public and private realms has its limitations. If the reason
for protecting privacy is the dignity of the individual, the rationale for its existence does
not cease merely because the individual has to interact with others in the public arena.
The extent to which an individual expects privacy in a public street may be different
from that which she expects in the sanctity of the home. Yet if dignity is the underlying
feature, the basis of recognising the right to privacy is not denuded in public spaces.
The extent of permissible state regulation may, however, differ based on the legitimate
concerns of governmental authority.
33 James Madison, who was the architect of the American Constitution,
contemplated the protection of the faculties of the citizen as an incident of the
inalienable property rights of human beings. In his words :
“In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is
called his property. In the latter sense, a man has property in his
opinions and the free communication of them…
He has an equal property interest in the free use of his faculties and
free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a
man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said
to have a property in his rights. Where an excess of power prevails,
property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions,
his person, his faculties or his possessions…
Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property
depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a
natural and inalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle,
PART F
29
to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith,
can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred
than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for
which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original
conditions of the social pact.”30
Madison traced the recognition of an inviolable zone to an inalienable right to property.
Property is construed in the broadest sense to include tangibles and intangibles and
ultimately to control over one’s conscience itself.
34 In an article published on 15 December 1890 in the Harvard Law Review,
Samuel D Warren and Louis Brandeis adverted to the evolution of the law to
incorporate within it, the right to life as “a recognition of man’s spiritual nature, of his
feelings and his intellect”31. As legal rights were broadened, the right to life had “come
to mean the right to enjoy life – the right to be let alone”. Recognizing that “only a
part of the pain, pleasure and profit of life lay in physical things” and that “thoughts,
emotions, and sensations demanded legal recognition”, Warren and Brandeis
revealed with a sense of perspicacity the impact of technology on the right to be let
alone:
“Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next
step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for
securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right “to be
let alone”. Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise
have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and
numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the
prediction that “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed
30 James Madison, “Essay on Property”, in Gaillard Hunt ed., The Writings of James Madison (1906), Vol. 6, at
pages 101-103.
31 Warren and Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy”, Harvard Law Review (1890), Vol.4, No. 5, at page 193
PART F
30
from the house-tops.” For years there has been a feeling that the
law must afford some remedy for the unauthorized circulation of
portraits of private persons…
The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing
civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world,
and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more
sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become
more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and
invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him
to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by
mere bodily injury.”32
In their seminal article, Warren and Brandeis observed that:
“The principle which protects personal writings and all other
personal productions, not against theft and physical appropriation,
but against publication in any form, is in reality not the principle of
private property, but that of an inviolate personality.”33
(emphasis supplied)
The right “to be let alone” thus represented a manifestation of “an inviolate
personality”, a core of freedom and liberty from which the human being had to be free
from intrusion. The technology which provided a justification for the need to preserve
the privacy of the individual was the development of photography. The right to be let
alone was not so much an incident of property as a reflection of the inviolable nature
of the human personality.
35 The ringing observations of Warren and Brandeis on the impact of technology
have continued relevance today in a globalized world dominated by the internet and
32 Ibid, at pages 195-196
33 Ibid, at page 205
PART F
31
information technology. As societies have evolved, so have the connotations and
ambit of privacy.
36 Though many contemporary accounts attribute the modern conception of the
‘right to privacy’ to the Warren and Brandeis article, historical material indicates that it
was Thomas Cooley who adopted the phrase “the right to be let alone”, in his
Treatise on the Law of Torts34. Discussing personal immunity, Cooley stated:
“the right of one’s person may be said to be a right of complete
immunity; the right to be alone.”35
Roscoe Pound described the Warren and Brandeis article as having done “nothing
less than add a chapter to our law”36. However, another writer on the subject states
that:
“This right to privacy was not new. Warren and Brandeis did not
even coin the phrase, “right to privacy,” nor its common soubriquet,
“the right to be let alone”.”37
The right to be let alone is a part of the right to enjoy life. The right to enjoy life is, in
its turn, a part of the fundamental right to life of the individual.
34 Thomas Cooley, Treatise on the Law of Torts (1888), 2nd edition
35 Ibid, at page 29
36 Dorothy J Glancy, “The Invention of the Right to Privacy”, Arizona Law Review (1979) Vol. 21, No.1, at page 1.
The article attributes the Roscoe Pound quotation to “Letter from Roscoe Pound to William Chilton (1916)” as
quoted in Alpheus Mason, Brandeis : A Free Man’s Life 70 (1956).
37 Ibid, at pages 2-3.
PART F
32
37 The right to privacy was developed by Warren and Brandeis in the backdrop of
the dense urbanization which occurred particularly in the East Coast of the United
States. Between 1790 and 1890, the US population had risen from four million to sixtythree
million. The population of urban areas had grown over a hundred-fold since the
end of the civil war. In 1890, over eight million people had immigrated to the US.
Technological progress and rapid innovations had led to the private realm being
placed under stress :
“…technological progress during the post-Civil War decades had
brought to Boston and the rest of the United States “countless, littlenoticed
revolutions” in the form of a variety of inventions which
made the personal lives and personalities of individuals
increasingly accessible to large numbers of others, irrespective of
acquaintance, social or economic class, or the customary
constraints of propriety. Bell invented the telephone in Boston; the
first commercial telephone exchange opened there in 1877, while
Warren and Brandeis were students at the Harvard Law School. By
1890 there were also telegraphs, fairly inexpensive portable
cameras, sound recording devices, and better and cheaper
methods of making window glass. Warren and Brandeis recognized
that these advances in technology, coupled with intensified
newspaper enterprise, increased the vulnerability of individuals to
having their actions, words, images, and personalities
communicated without their consent beyond the protected circle of
family and chosen friends.”38
Coupled with this was the trend towards ‘newspaperization’39, the increasing presence
of the print media in American society. Six months before the publication of the Warren
and Brandeis’ article, E L Godkin, a newspaper man had published an article on the
same subject in Scribner’s magazine in July 1890. Godkin, however, suggested no
38 Ibid, at pages 7-8
39 Ibid, at page 8
PART F
33
realistic remedy for protecting privacy against intrusion, save and except “by the
cudgel or the horsewhip”40. It was Warren and Brandeis who advocated the use of the
common law to vindicate the right to privacy.41
38 Criminal libel actions were resorted to in the US during a part of the nineteenth
century but by 1890, they had virtually ceased to be “a viable protection for individual
privacy”42. The Sedition Act of 1789 expired in 1801. Before truth came to be accepted
as a defence in defamation actions, criminal libel prosecutions flourished in the State
courts.43
Similarly, truth was not regarded as a valid defence to a civil libel action in
much of the nineteenth century. By the time Warren and Brandeis wrote their article
in 1890, publication of the truth was perhaps no longer actionable under the law of
defamation. It was this breach or lacuna that they sought to fill up by speaking of the
right to privacy which would protect the control of the individual over her personality.44
The right to privacy evolved as a “leitmotif” representing “the long tradition of American
individualism”.45
39 Conscious as we are of the limitations with which comparative frameworks46 of
law and history should be evaluated, the above account is of significance. It reflects
40 Ibid, at page 9
41 Ibid, at page 10
42 Ibid, at page 12
43 Ibid, at page 14
44 Ibid, at Pages 15-16
45 Id at Pages 21-22
46 Illustratively, the Centre for Internet and Society has two interesting articles tracing the origin of privacy within
Classical Hindu Law and Islamic Law. See Ashna Ashesh and Bhairav Acharya ,“Locating Constructs of Privacy
PART G
34
the basic need of every individual to live with dignity. Urbanization and economic
development lead to a replacement of traditional social structures. Urban ghettos
replace the tranquillity of self-sufficient rural livelihoods. The need to protect the
privacy of the being is no less when development and technological change
continuously threaten to place the person into public gaze and portend to submerge
the individual into a seamless web of inter-connected lives.
G Natural and inalienable rights
40 Privacy is a concomitant of the right of the individual to exercise control over
his or her personality. It finds an origin in the notion that there are certain rights which
are natural to or inherent in a human being. Natural rights are inalienable because
they are inseparable from the human personality. The human element in life is
impossible to conceive without the existence of natural rights. In 1690, John Locke
had in his Second Treatise of Government observed that the lives, liberties and
estates of individuals are as a matter of fundamental natural law, a private preserve.
The idea of a private preserve was to create barriers from outside interference. In
1765, William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England spoke of
a “natural liberty”. There were, in his view, absolute rights which were vested in the
individual by the immutable laws of nature. These absolute rights were divided into
within Classical Hindu Law”, The Centre for Internet and Society, available at https://cis-india.org/internetgovernance/blog/loading-constructs-of-privacy-within-classical-hindu-law.
See also Vidushi Marda and Bhairav
Acharya, “Identifying Aspects of Privacy in Islamic Law”, The Centre for Internet and Society, available at
https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/identifying-aspects-of-privacy-in-islamic-law
PART G
35
rights of personal security, personal liberty and property. The right of personal security
involved a legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of life, limbs, body, health and reputation
by an individual.
41 The notion that certain rights are inalienable was embodied in the American
Declaration of Independence (1776) in the following terms:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness”. (emphasis supplied)
The term inalienable rights was incorporated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man
and of the Citizen (1789) adopted by the French National Assembly in the following
terms:
“For its drafters, to ignore, to forget or to depreciate the rights of
man are the sole causes of public misfortune and government
corruption. These rights are natural rights, inalienable and
sacred, the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims them-it
does not grant, concede or establish them-and their conservation is
the reason for all political communities; within these rights figures
resistance to oppression”. (emphasis supplied)
42 In 1921, Roscoe Pound, in his work titled “The Spirit of the Common Law”,
explained the meaning of natural rights:
“Natural rights mean simply interests which we think ought to be
secured; demands which human beings may make which we think
ought to be satisfied. It is perfectly true that neither law nor state
PART G
36
creates them. But it is fatal to all sound thinking to treat them as
legal conceptions. For legal rights, the devices which law employs
to secure such of these interests as it is expedient to recognize, are
the work of the law and in that sense the work of the state.”47
Two decades later in 1942, Pound in “The Revival of Natural Law” propounded
that:
“Classical natural law in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
had three postulates. One was natural rights, qualities of the ideal
or perfect man in a state of perfection by virtue of which he ought
to have certain things or be able to do certain things. These were
a guarantee of stability because the natural rights were taken
to be immutable and inalienable. (2) The social compact, a
postulated contract basis of civil society. Here was a guide to
change. (3) An ideal law of which positive laws were only
declaratory; an ideal body of perfect precepts governing human
relations and ordering human conduct, guaranteeing the natural
rights and expressing the social compact.”48 (emphasis supplied)
43 In 1955, Edwin W Patterson in “A Pragmatist Looks At Natural Law and
Natural Rights” observed that rights which individuals while making a social compact
to create a government, reserve to themselves, are natural rights because they
originate in a condition of nature and survive the social compact. In his words:
“The basic rights of the citizen in our political society are regarded
as continuing from a prepolitical condition or as arising in society
independently of positive constitutions, statutes, and judicial
decisions, which merely seek to “secure” or “safeguard” rights
already reserved. These rights are not granted by a benevolent
despot to his grateful subjects. The “natural rights” theory thus
provided a convenient ideology for the preservation of such
important rights as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and
procedural due process of law. As a pragmatist, I should prefer to
47 Roscoe Pound, The Spirit of the Common Law, Marshall Jones Company (1921), at page 92
48 Roscoe Pound, “The Revival of Natural Law”, Notre Damne Lawyer (1942), Vol. 27, No 4, at page 330
PART G
37
explain them as individual and social interests which arise or exist
normally in our culture and are tuned into legal rights by being
legally protected.” 49
44 Natural rights are not bestowed by the state. They inhere in human beings
because they are human. They exist equally in the individual irrespective of class or
strata, gender or orientation.
45 Distinguishing an inalienable right to an object from the object itself
emphasises the notion of inalienability. All human beings retain their inalienable rights
(whatever their situation, whatever their acts, whatever their guilt or innocence). The
concept of natural inalienable rights secures autonomy to human beings. But the
autonomy is not absolute, for the simple reason that, the concept of inalienable rights
postulates that there are some rights which no human being may alienate. While
natural rights protect the right of the individual to choose and preserve liberty, yet the
autonomy of the individual is not absolute or total. As a theoretical construct, it would
otherwise be strictly possible to hire another person to kill oneself or to sell oneself
into slavery or servitude. Though these acts are autonomous, they would be in
violation of inalienable rights. This is for the reason that:
“…These acts, however autonomous, would be in violation of
inalienable rights, as the theories would have it. They would be
morally invalid, and ineffective actually to alienate inalienable rights.
Although self-regarding, they pretend to an autonomy that does not
exist. Inalienable rights are precisely directed against such false
49 Edwin W. Patterson, “A Pragmatist Looks At Natural Law and Natural Rights”, in Arthur L. Harding ed., Natural
Law and Natural Rights (1955), at pages 62-63
PART G
38
autonomy.
Natural inalienable rights, like other natural rights, have long rested
upon what has been called the law of nature of natural law. Perhaps
all of the theories discussed above could be called law of nature or
natural law theories. The American tradition, even as early as 1641,
ten years before Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, included
claims of natural rights, and these claims appealed to the law of
nature, often in terms. Without a moral order of the law of nature
sort, natural inalienable rights are difficult to pose. “’It is from natural
law, and from it alone, that man obtains those rights we refer to as
inalienable and inviolable…Human rights can have no foundation
other than natural law.”50
46 The idea that individuals can have rights against the State that are prior to rights
created by explicit legislation has been developed as part of a liberal theory of law
propounded by Ronald Dworkin. In his seminal work titled “Taking Rights
Seriously”
51 (1977), he states that:
“Individual rights are political trumps held by individuals.
Individuals have rights when, for some reason, a collective goal is
not a sufficient justification for denying them what they wish, as
individuals, to have or to do, or not a sufficient justification for
imposing some loss or injury upon them.”52 (emphasis supplied)
Dworkin asserts the existence of a right against the government as essential to
protecting the dignity of the individual:
“It makes sense to say that a man has a fundamental right
against the Government, in the strong sense, like free speech,
if that right is necessary to protect his dignity, or his standing
50 Craig A. Ster and Gregory M. Jones, “The Coherence of Natural Inalienable Rights”, UMKC Law Review (2007-
08), Volume 76 (4), at pages 971-972
51 Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, Duckworth (1977)
52 Ibid, at page xi
PART G
39
as equally entitled to concern and respect, or some other
personal value of like consequence.”53
(emphasis supplied)
Dealing with the question whether the Government may abridge the rights of others
to act when their acts might simply increase the risk, by however slight or speculative
a margin, that some person’s right to life or property will be violated, Dworkin says :
“But no society that purports to recognize a variety of rights, on the
ground that a man’s dignity or equality may be invaded in a variety
of ways, can accept such a principle54…
If rights make sense, then the degrees of their importance cannot
be so different that some count not at all when others are
mentioned55…
If the Government does not take rights seriously, then it does not
take law seriously either56…”
Dworkin states that judges should decide how widely an individual’s rights extend. He
states:
“Indeed, the suggestion that rights can be demonstrated by a
process of history rather than by an appeal to principle shows either
a confusion or no real concern about what rights are…
This has been a complex argument, and I want to summarize it. Our
constitutional system rests on a particular moral theory, namely,
that men have moral rights against the state. The different clauses
of the Bill of Rights, like the due process and equal protection
clauses, must be understood as appealing to moral concepts rather
than laying down particular concepts; therefore, a court that
undertakes the burden of applying these clauses fully as law must
53 Ibid, at page 199
54 Ibid, at page 203
55 Ibid, at page 204
56
Ibid, at page 205
PART H
40
be an activist court, in the sense that it must be prepared to frame
and answer questions of political morality…”57
A later section of this judgment deals with how natural and inalienable rights have
been developed in Indian precedent.
H Evolution of the privacy doctrine in India
47 Among the early decisions of this Court following Kharak Singh was R M
Malkani v State of Maharashtra58. In that case, this Court held that Section 25 of
the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was not violated because :
“Where a person talking on the telephone allows another person to
record it or to hear it, it cannot be said that the other person who is
allowed to do so is damaging, removing, tampering, touching
machinery battery line or post for intercepting or acquainting himself
with the contents of any message. There was no element of
coercion or compulsion in attaching the tape recorder to the
telephone.”59
This Court followed the same line of reasoning as it had in Kharak Singh while
rejecting a privacy based challenge under Article 21. Significantly, the Court observed
that :
“Article 21 was invoked by submitting that the privacy of the
appellant’s conversation was invaded. Article 21 contemplates
procedure established by law with regard to deprivation of life or
personal liberty. The telephone conversation of an innocent citizen
will be protected by Courts against wrongful or high handed
interference by tapping the conversation. The protection is not for
57
Ibid, at page 147
58 (1973) 1 SCC 471
59 Ibid, at page 476 (para 20)
PART H
41
the guilty citizen against the efforts of the police to vindicate the law
and prevent corruption of public servants. It must not be understood
that the Court will tolerate safeguards for the protection of the
citizen to be imperilled by permitting the police to proceed by
unlawful or irregular methods.”60
In other words, it was the targeted and specific nature of the interception which
weighed with the Court, the telephone tapping being directed at a guilty person. Hence
the Court ruled that the telephone conversation of an innocent citizen will be protected
against wrongful interference by wiretapping.
48 In Gobind61, a Bench of three judges of this Court considered a challenge to
the validity of Regulations 855 and 856 of State Police Regulations under which a
history sheet was opened against the petitioner who had been placed under
surveillance. The Bench of three judges adverted to the decision in Kharak Singh
and to the validation of the Police Regulations (other than domiciliary visits at night).
By the time the decision was handed down in Gobind, the law in the US had evolved
and this Court took note of the decision in Griswold v Connecticut62 (“Griswold”) in
which a conviction under a statute on a charge of giving information and advice to
married persons on contraceptive methods was held to be invalid. This Court adverted
to the dictum that specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights have penumbras which
create zones of privacy. The Court also relied upon the US Supreme Court decision
in Jane Roe v Henry Wade63 in which the Court upheld the right of a married woman
60 Ibid, at page 479 (para 31)
61 (1975) 2 SCC 148
62 381 US 479 (1965)
63 410 US 113 (1973)
PART H
42
to terminate her pregnancy as a part of the right of personal privacy. The following
observations of Justice Mathew, who delivered the judgment of the Court do indicate
a constitutional recognition of the right to be let alone :
“There can be no doubt that the makers of our Constitution wanted
to ensure conditions favourable to the pursuit of happiness. They
certainly realized as Brandeis, J. said in his dissent in Olmstead v.
United States64, the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his
feelings and of his intellect and that only a part of the pain, pleasure,
satisfaction of life can be found in material things and therefore,
they must be deemed to have conferred upon the individual as
against the government a sphere where he should be let alone”.65
These observations follow upon a reference to the Warren and Brandeis article; the
two decisions of the US Supreme Court noted earlier; the writings of Locke and Kant;
and to dignity, liberty and autonomy.
49 Yet a close reading of the decision in Gobind would indicate that the Court
eventually did not enter a specific finding on the existence of a right to privacy under
the Constitution. The Court indicated that if the Court does find that a particular right
should be protected as a fundamental privacy right, it could be overridden only subject
to a compelling interest of the State :
“There can be no doubt that privacy-dignity claims deserve to be
examined with care and to be denied only when an important
countervailing interest is shown to be superior. If the Court does
find that a claimed right is entitled to protection as a
fundamental privacy right, a law infringing it must satisfy the
compelling State interest test. Then the question would be
64 277 US 438 (1928)
65 Supra note 6, at page 155 (para 20)
PART H
43
whether a State interest is of such paramount importance as would
justify an infringement of the right.”66
(emphasis supplied)
While emphasising individual autonomy and the dangers of individual privacy being
eroded by new developments that “will make it possible to be heard in the street what
is whispered in the closet”, the Court had obvious concerns about adopting a broad
definition of privacy since the right of privacy “is not explicit in the Constitution”.
Observing that the concept of privacy overlaps with liberty, this Court noted thus :
“Individual autonomy, perhaps the central concern of any system of
limited government, is protected in part under our Constitution by
explicit constitutional guarantees. In the application of the
Constitution our contemplation cannot only be of what has been but
what may be. Time works changes and brings into existence
new conditions. Subtler and far reaching means of invading
privacy will make it possible to be heard in the street what is
whispered in the closet. Yet, too broad a definition of privacy
raises serious questions about the propriety of judicial
reliance on a right that is not explicit in the Constitution. Of
course, privacy primarily concerns the individual. It therefore
relates to and overlaps with the concept of liberty. The most serious
advocate of privacy must confess that there are serious problems
of defining the essence and scope of the right. Privacy interest in
autonomy must also be placed in the context of other rights and
values.”67
(emphasis supplied)
Justice Mathew proceeded to explain what any right of privacy must encompass and
protect and found it to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty :
“Any right to privacy must encompass and protect the personal
intimacies of the home, the family, marriage, motherhood,
procreation and child rearing. This catalogue approach to the
question is obviously not as instructive as it does not give an
analytical picture of the distinctive characteristics of the right of
66 Ibid, at page 155 (para 22)
67 Ibid, at page 156 (para 23)
PART H
44
privacy. Perhaps, the only suggestion that can be offered as
unifying principle underlying the concept has been the assertion
that a claimed right must be a fundamental right implicit in the
concept of ordered liberty.”68
In adverting to ordered liberty, the judgment is similar to the statement in the judgment
of Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar in Kharak Singh which found the intrusion of the
home by nightly domiciliary visits a violation of ordered liberty.
The Court proceeded to hold that in any event, the right to privacy will need a case to
case elaboration. The following observations were carefully crafted to hold that even
on the “assumption” that there is an independent right of privacy emanating from
personal liberty, the right to movement and free speech, the right is not absolute:
“The right to privacy in any event will necessarily have to go through
a process of case-by-case development. Therefore, even
assuming that the right to personal liberty, the right to move
freely throughout the territory of India and the freedom of
speech create an independent right of privacy as an emanation
from them which one can characterize as a fundamental right, we
do not think that the right is absolute.”69
(emphasis supplied)
Again a similar “assumption” was made by the Court in the following observations:
“…Assuming that the fundamental rights explicitly guaranteed to a
citizen have penumbral zones and that the right to privacy is itself a
fundamental right, that fundamental right must be subject to
restriction on the basis of compelling public interest. As Regulation
856 has the force of law, it cannot be said that the fundamental right
of the petitioner under Article 21 has been violated by the provisions
68 Ibid, at page 156 (para 24)
69 Ibid, at page 157 (para 28)
PART H
45
contained in it : for, what is guaranteed under that Article is that no
person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except by the
procedure established by ‘law’. We think that the procedure is
reasonable having regard to the provisions of Regulations 853 (c)
and 857.”70
(emphasis supplied)
The Court declined to interfere with the regulations.
50 The judgment in Gobind does not contain a clear statement of principle by the
Court of the existence of an independent right of privacy or of such a right being an
emanation from explicit constitutional guarantees. The Bench, which consisted of
three judges, may have been constrained by the dictum in the latter part of Kharak
Singh. Whatever be the reason, it is evident that in several places Justice Mathew
proceeded on the “assumption” that if the right to privacy is protected under the
Constitution, it is a part of ordered liberty and is not absolute but subject to restrictions
tailor-made to fulfil a compelling state interest. This analysis of the decision in Gobind
assumes significance because subsequent decisions of smaller Benches have
proceeded on the basis that Gobind does indeed recognise a right to privacy. What
the contours of such a right are, emerges from a reading of those decisions. This is
the next aspect to which we now turn.
51 Malak Singh v State of Punjab and Haryana71 (“Malak Singh”) dealt with the
provisions of Section 23 of the Punjab Police Rules under which a surveillance register
70 Ibid, at page 157-158 (para 31)
71 (1981) 1 SCC 420
PART H
46
was to be maintained among other persons, of all convicts of a particular description
and persons who were reasonably believed to be habitual offenders whether or not,
they were convicted. The validity of the rules was not questioned in view of the
decisions in Kharak Singh and Gobind. The rules provided for modalities of
surveillance. Justice O Chinnappa Reddy speaking for a Bench of two judges of this
Court recognised the need for surveillance on habitual and potential offenders. In his
view:
“Prevention of crime is one of the prime purposes of the constitution
of a police force. The preamble to the Police Act, 1861 says:
“Whereas it is expedient to reorganise the police and to make it a
more efficient instrument for the prevention and detection of crime.”
Section 23 of the Police Act prescribes it as the duty of police
officers “to collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public
peace; to prevent the commission of offences and public
nuisances”. In connection with these duties it will be necessary to
keep discreet surveillance over reputed bad characters, habitual
offenders and other potential offenders. Organised crime cannot be
successfully fought without close watch of suspects. But,
surveillance may be intrusive and it may so seriously encroach
on the privacy of a citizen as to infringe his fundamental right
to personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution
and the freedom of movement guaranteed by Article 19(1)(d). That
cannot be permitted. This is recognised by the Punjab Police Rules
themselves. Rule 23.7, which prescribes the mode of surveillance,
permits the close watch over the movements of the person under
surveillance but without any illegal interference. Permissible
surveillance is only to the extent of a close watch over the
movements of the person under surveillance and no more. So long
as surveillance is for the purpose of preventing crime and is
confined to the limits prescribed by Rule 23.7 we do not think a
person whose name is included in the surveillance register can
have a genuine cause for complaint. We may notice here that
interference in accordance with law and for the prevention of
disorder and crime is an exception recognised even by European
Convention of Human Rights to the right to respect for a person's
private and family life. Article 8 of the Convention reads as follows:
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“(1) Everyone's right to respect for his private and
family life, his home and his correspondence shall be
recognised.
(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority
with the exercise of this right, except such as is in
accordance with law and is necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of national security, public
safety, for the prevention of disorder and crime or for
the protection of health or morals.””72
(emphasis
supplied)
The Court did not consider it unlawful for the police to conduct surveillance so long as
it was for the purpose of preventing crime and was confined to the limits prescribed
by Rule 23.7 which, while authorising a close watch on the movement of a person
under surveillance, contained a condition that this should be without any illegal
interference. The object being to prevent crime, the Court held that the person who
is subject to surveillance is not entitled to access the register nor was a pre-decisional
hearing compliant with natural justice warranted. Confidentiality, this Court held, was
required in the interest of the public, including keeping in confidence the sources of
information. Again the Court held:
“But all this does not mean that the police have a licence to enter
the names of whoever they like (dislike?) in the surveillance
register; nor can the surveillance be such as to squeeze the
fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all citizens or to obstruct the
free exercise and enjoyment of those freedoms; nor can the
surveillance so intrude as to offend the dignity of the individual.
Surveillance of persons who do not fall within the categories
mentioned in Rule 23.4 or for reasons unconnected with the
prevention of crime, or excessive surveillance falling beyond the
limits prescribed by the rules, will entitle a citizen to the court's
protection which the court will not hesitate to give. The very Rules
72 Ibid, at pages 424-425 (para 6)
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which prescribe the conditions for making entries in the surveillance
register and the mode of surveillance appear to recognise the
caution and care with which the police officers are required to
proceed. The note following Rule 23.4 is instructive. It enjoins a duty
upon the police officer to construe the rule strictly and confine the
entries in the surveillance register to the class of persons mentioned
in the rule. Similarly Rule 23.7 demands that there should be no
illegal interference in the guise of surveillance. Surveillance,
therefore, has to be unobtrusive and within bounds.”73
The observations in Malak Singh on the issue of privacy indicate that an
encroachment on privacy infringes personal liberty under Article 21 and the right to
the freedom of movement under Article 19(1)(d). Without specifically holding that
privacy is a protected constitutional value under Article 19 or Article 21, the judgment
of this Court indicates that serious encroachments on privacy impinge upon personal
liberty and the freedom of movement. The Court linked such an encroachment with
the dignity of the individual which would be offended by surveillance bereft of
procedural protections and carried out in a manner that would obstruct the free
exercise of freedoms guaranteed by the fundamental rights.
52 State of Maharashtra v Madhukar Narayan Mardikar74 is another decision by
a two-judge Bench which dealt with a case of a police inspector who was alleged to
have attempted to have non-consensual intercourse with a woman by entering the
hutment where she lived. Following an enquiry, he was dismissed from service but
the punishment was modified, in appeal, to removal so as to enable him to apply for
73 Ibid, at page 426 (para 9)
74 (1991) 1 SCC 57
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49
pensionary benefits. The High Court quashed the punishment both on the ground of
a violation of the principles of natural justice, and by questioning the character of the
victim. Holding that this approach of the High Court was misconceived, Justice A M
Ahmadi (as the learned Chief Justice then was) held that though the victim had
admitted “the dark side of her life”, she was yet entitled to her privacy :
“The High Court observes that since Banubi is an unchaste woman
it would be extremely unsafe to allow the fortune and career of a
government official to be put in jeopardy upon the uncorroborated
version of such a woman who makes no secret of her illicit intimacy
with another person. She was honest enough to admit the dark side
of her life. Even a woman of easy virtue is entitled to privacy
and no one can invade her privacy as and when he likes. So
also it is not open to any and every person to violate her
person as and when he wishes. She is entitled to protect her
person if there is an attempt to violate it against her wish. She
is equally entitled to the protection of law. Therefore, merely
because she is a woman of easy virtue, her evidence cannot
be thrown overboard. At the most the officer called upon to
evaluate her evidence would be required to administer caution unto
himself before accepting her evidence.”75 (emphasis supplied)
As the above extract indicates, the issue before this Court was essentially based on
the appreciation of the evidence of the victim by the High Court. However, the
observations of this Court make a strong statement of the bodily integrity of a woman,
as an incident of her privacy.
53 The decision In Life Insurance Corporation of India v Prof Manubhai D
Shah76, incorrectly attributed to the decision in Indian Express Newspapers
75 Ibid, at pages 62-63 (para 8)
76 (1992) 3 SCC 637
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(Bombay) Pvt Ltd v Union of India77 the principle that the right to free expression
under Article 19(1)(a) includes the privacy of communications. The judgment of this
Court in Indian Express cited a U N Report but did no more.
54 The decision which has assumed some significance is Rajagopal78 . In that
case, in a proceeding under Article 32 of the Constitution, a writ was sought for
restraining the state and prison authorities from interfering with the publication of an
autobiography of a condemned prisoner in a magazine. The prison authorities, in a
communication to the publisher, denied the claim that the autobiography had been
authored by the prisoner while he was confined to jail and opined that a publication in
the name of a convict was against prison rules. The prisoner in question had been
found guilty of six murders and was sentenced to death. Among the questions which
were posed by this Court for decision was whether a citizen could prevent another
from writing about the life story of the former and whether an unauthorized publication
infringes the citizen’s right to privacy. Justice Jeevan Reddy speaking for a Bench of
two judges recognised that the right of privacy has two aspects: the first affording an
action in tort for damages resulting from an unlawful invasion of privacy, while the
second is a constitutional right. The judgment traces the constitutional protection of
privacy to the decisions in Kharak Singh and Gobind. This appears from the
following observations:
77 (1985) 1 SCC 641
78 (1994) 6 SCC 632
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“…The first decision of this Court dealing with this aspect is Kharak
Singh v. State of U.P. [(1964) 1 SCR 332 : AIR 1963 SC 1295 :
(1963) 2 Cri LJ 329] A more elaborate appraisal of this right took
place in a later decision in Gobind v.State of M.P.[(1975) 2 SCC
148 : 1975 SCC (Cri) 468] wherein Mathew, J. speaking for himself,
Krishna Iyer and Goswami, JJ. traced the origins of this right and
also pointed out how the said right has been dealt with by the United
States Supreme Court in two of its well-known decisions
in Griswold v. Connecticut [381 US 479 : 14 L Ed 2d 510 (1965)]
and Roe v. Wade [410 US 113 : 35 L Ed 2d 147 (1973)]…”79
The decision in Rajagopal considers the decisions in Kharak Singh and Gobind thus:
“… Kharak Singh [(1964) 1 SCR 332 : AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1963)
2 Cri LJ 329] was a case where the petitioner was put under
surveillance as defined in Regulation 236 of the U.P. Police
Regulations…
Though right to privacy was referred to, the decision turned on the
meaning and content of “personal liberty” and “life” in Article
21. Gobind [(1975) 2 SCC 148 : 1975 SCC (Cri) 468] was also a
case of surveillance under M.P. Police Regulations. Kharak
Singh [(1964) 1 SCR 332 : AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1963) 2 Cri LJ 329]
was followed even while at the same time elaborating the right to
privacy…”80
The Court held that neither the State nor its officials can impose prior restrictions on
the publication of an autobiography of a convict. In the course of its summary of the
decision, the Court held:
79 Ibid, at pages 639-640 (para 9)
80 Ibid, at page 643 (para 13)
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“(1) The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty
guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It is a “right
to be let alone”. A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his
home, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child-bearing
and education among other matters. None can publish anything
concerning the above matters without his consent — whether
truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so,
he would be violating the right to privacy of the person concerned
and would be liable in an action for damages. Position may,
however, be different, if a person voluntarily thrusts himself into
controversy or voluntarily invites or raises a controversy.
(2) The rule aforesaid is subject to the exception, that any
publication concerning the aforesaid aspects becomes
unobjectionable if such publication is based upon public records
including court records. This is for the reason that once a matter
becomes a matter of public record, the right to privacy no longer
subsists and it becomes a legitimate subject for comment by press
and media among others. We are, however, of the opinion that in
the interests of decency [Article 19(2)] an exception must be carved
out to this rule, viz., a female who is the victim of a sexual assault,
kidnap, abduction or a like offence should not further be subjected
to the indignity of her name and the incident being publicised in
press/media.
(3) There is yet another exception to the rule in (1) above — indeed,
this is not an exception but an independent rule. In the case of
public officials, it is obvious, right to privacy, or for that matter, the
remedy of action for damages is simply not available with respect
to their acts and conduct relevant to the discharge of their official
duties. This is so even where the publication is based upon facts
and statements which are not true, unless the official establishes
that the publication was made (by the defendant) with reckless
disregard for truth. In such a case, it would be enough for the
defendant (member of the press or media) to prove that he acted
after a reasonable verification of the facts; it is not necessary for
him to prove that what he has written is true. Of course, where the
publication is proved to be false and actuated by malice or personal
animosity, the defendant would have no defence and would be
liable for damages. It is equally obvious that in matters not relevant
to the discharge of his duties, the public official enjoys the same
protection as any other citizen, as explained in (1) and (2) above. It
needs no reiteration that judiciary, which is protected by the power
to punish for contempt of court and Parliament and legislatures
protected as their privileges are by Articles 105 and 104
PART H
53
respectively of the Constitution of India, represent exceptions to this
rule…”81
55 The judgment of Justice Jeevan Reddy regards privacy as implicit in the right
to life and personal liberty under Article 21. In coming to the conclusion, the judgment
in Rajagopal notes that while Kharak Singh had referred to the right of privacy, the
decision turned on the content of life and personal liberty in Article 21. The decision
recognises privacy as a protected constitutional right, while tracing it to Article 21.
56 In an interesting research article on ‘State’s surveillance and the right to
privacy’, a contemporary scholar has questioned the theoretical foundation of the
decision in Rajagopal on the ground that the case essentially dealt with cases in the
US concerning privacy against governmental intrusion which was irrelevant in the
factual situation before this Court.82 In the view of the author, Rajagopal involved a
publication of an article by a private publisher in a magazine, authored by a private
individual, albeit a convict. Hence the decision has been criticized on the ground that
Rajagopal was about an action between private parties and, therefore, ought to have
dealt with privacy in the context of tort law.83 While it is true that in Rajagopal it is a
private publisher who was seeking to publish an article about a death row convict, it
is equally true that the Court dealt with a prior restraint on publication imposed by the
81 Ibid, at pages 649-650 (para 26)
82 Gautam Bhatia, “State Surveillance and the Right to Privacy in India: A Constitutional Biography”, National
Law School of India Review (2014), Vol. 26(2), at pages 138-139
83 Ibid
PART H
54
state and its prison officials. That is, in fact, how Article 32 was invoked by the
publisher.
57 The intersection between privacy and medical jurisprudence has been dealt
with in a series of judgments of this Court, among them being Mr X v Hospital Z84
.
In that case, the appellant was a doctor in the health service of a state. He was
accompanying a patient for surgery from Nagaland to Chennai and was tested when
he was to donate blood. The blood sample was found to be HIV+. The appellant
claiming to have been socially ostracized by the disclosure of his HIV+ status by the
hospital, filed a claim for damages before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal
Commission (NCDRC) alleging that the hospital had unauthorizedly disclosed his HIV
status resulting in his marriage being called off and in social opprobrium. Justice
Saghir Ahmad, speaking for a Bench of two judges of this Court, adverted to the duty
of the doctor to maintain secrecy in relation to the patient but held that there is an
exception to the rule of confidentiality where public interest will override that duty. The
judgment of this Court dwelt on the right of privacy under Article 21 and other
provisions of the Constitution relating to the fundamental rights and the Directive
Principles:
“Right to privacy has been culled out of the provisions of Article 21
and other provisions of the Constitution relating to the Fundamental
Rights read with the Directive Principles of State Policy. It was in
this context that it was held by this Court in Kharak Singh v. State
of U.P. [AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1964) 1 SCR 332] that police
surveillance of a person by domiciliary visits would be violative of
84 (1998) 8 SCC 296
PART H
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Article 21 of the Constitution. This decision was considered by
Mathew, J. in his classic judgment in Gobind v. State of
M.P. [(1975) 2 SCC 148 : 1975 SCC (Cri) 468] in which the origin
of “right to privacy” was traced and a number of American decisions,
including Munn v. Illinois [94 US 113 : 24 L Ed 77 (1877)]
, Wolf v. Colorado [338 US 25 : 93 L Ed 1782 (1949)] and various
articles were considered…”85
The Court read the decision in Malak Singh as reiterating the view taken earlier, on
privacy in Kharak Singh and Gobind. The Court proceeded to rely on the decision
in Rajagopal. The Court held that the right to privacy is not absolute and is subject to
action lawfully taken to prevent crime or disorder or to protect the health, morals and
the rights and freedoms of others. Public disclosure of even true facts, the Court held,
may amount to invasion of the right to privacy or the right to be let alone when a doctor
breaches confidentiality. The Court held that:
“Disclosure of even true private facts has the tendency to disturb a
person's tranquillity. It may generate many complexes in him and
may even lead to psychological problems. He may, thereafter, have
a disturbed life all through. In the face of these potentialities, and as
already held by this Court in its various decisions referred to above,
the right of privacy is an essential component of the right to life
envisaged by Article 21. The right, however, is not absolute and
may be lawfully restricted for the prevention of crime, disorder or
protection of health or morals or protection of rights and freedom of
others.”86
However, the disclosure that the appellant was HIV+ was held not to be violative of
the right to privacy of the appellant on the ground that the woman to whom he was to
85 Ibid, at page 305 (para 21)
86 Ibid, at page 307 (para 28)
PART H
56
be married “was saved in time by such disclosure and from the risk of being infected”.
The denial of a claim for compensation by the NCDRC was upheld.
58 The decision in Mr X v Hospital Z fails to adequately appreciate that the latter
part of the decision in Kharak Singh declined to accept privacy as a constitutional
right, while the earlier part invalidated domiciliary visits in the context of an invasion
of ‘ordered liberty’. Similarly, several observations in Gobind proceed on an
assumption: if there is a right of privacy, it would comprehend certain matters and
would be subject to a regulation to protect compelling state interests.
59 In a decision of a Bench of two judges of this Court in PUCL87, the Court dealt
with telephone tapping. The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of Section
5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and urged in the alternative for adopting
procedural safeguards to curb arbitrary acts of telephone tapping. Section 5(2)
authorises the interception of messages in transmission in the following terms:
“On the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of
the public safety, the Central Government or a State Government
or any officer specially unauthorised in this behalf by the Central
Government or a State Government may, if satisfied that it is
necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty
and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with
foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the
commission of an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by
order, direct that any message or class of messages to or from any
person or class of persons, or relating to any particular subject,
brought for transmission by or transmitted or received by any
87 (1997) 1 SCC 301
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telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or
detained, or shall be disclosed to the Government making the order
or an officer thereof mentioned in the order:
Provided that press messages intended to be published in India of
correspondents accredited to the Central Government or a State
Government shall not be intercepted or detained, unless their
transmission has been prohibited under this sub-section.”
60 The submission on the invalidity of the statutory provision authorising telephone
tapping was based on the right to privacy being a fundamental right under Articles
19(1) and 21 of the Constitution. Justice Kuldip Singh adverted to the observations
contained in the majority judgment in Kharak Singh which led to the invalidation of
the provision for domiciliary visits at night under Regulation 236(b). PUCL cited the
minority view of Justice Subba Rao as having gone even further by invalidating
Regulation 236, in its entirety. The judgment, therefore, construes both the majority
and minority judgments as having affirmed the right to privacy as a part of Article 21:
“Article 21 of the Constitution has, therefore, been interpreted by all
the seven learned Judges in Kharak Singh case [(1964) 1 SCR 332
: AIR 1963 SC 1295] (majority and the minority opinions) to include
that “right to privacy” as a part of the right to “protection of life and
personal liberty” guaranteed under the said Article.”88
Gobind was construed to have upheld the validity of State Police Regulations
providing surveillance on the ground that the ‘procedure established by law’ under
Article 21 had not been violated. After completing its summation of precedents,
Justice Kuldip Singh held as follows:
88 Ibid, at page 310 (para 14)
PART H
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“We have, therefore, no hesitation in holding that right to privacy is
a part of the right to “life” and “personal liberty” enshrined under
Article 21 of the Constitution. Once the facts in a given case
constitute a right to privacy, Article 21 is attracted. The said right
cannot be curtained “except according to procedure established by
law”.”89
Telephone conversations were construed to be an important ingredient of privacy and
the tapping of such conversations was held to infringe Article 21, unless permitted by
‘procedure established by law’ :
“The right to privacy — by itself — has not been identified under the
Constitution. As a concept it may be too broad and moralistic to
define it judicially. Whether right to privacy can be claimed or has
been infringed in a given case would depend on the facts of the said
case. But the right to hold a telephone conversation in the privacy
of one's home or office without interference can certainly be claimed
as “right to privacy”. Conversations on the telephone are often of an
intimate and confidential character. Telephone conversation is a
part of modern man's life. It is considered so important that more
and more people are carrying mobile telephone instruments in their
pockets. Telephone conversation is an important facet of a man's
private life. Right to privacy would certainly include telephone
conversation in the privacy of one's home or office. Telephonetapping
would, thus, infract Article 21 of the Constitution of India
unless it is permitted under the procedure established by law.”90
The Court also held that telephone tapping infringes the guarantee of free speech and
expression under Article 19(1)(a) unless authorized by Article 19(2). The judgment
relied on the protection of privacy under Article 17 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (and a similar guarantee under Article 12 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights) which, in its view, must be an interpretative tool for
89 Ibid, at page 311 (para 17)
90 Ibid, at page 311 (para 18)
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construing the provisions of the Constitution. Article 21, in the view of the Court, has
to be interpreted in conformity with international law. In the absence of rules providing
for the precautions to be adopted for preventing improper interception and/or
disclosure of messages, the fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 could
not be safeguarded. But the Court was not inclined to require prior judicial scrutiny
before intercepting telephone conversations. The Court ruled that it would be
necessary to lay down procedural safeguards for the protection of the right to privacy
of a person until Parliament intervened by framing rules under Section 7 of the
Telegraph Act. The Court accordingly framed guidelines to be adopted in all cases
envisaging telephone tapping.
61 The judgment in PUCL construes the earlier decisions in Kharak Singh
(especially the majority view on the invalidity of domiciliary visits), Gobind and
Rajagopal in holding that the right to privacy is embodied as a constitutionally
protected right under Article 21. The Court was conscious of the fact that the right to
privacy has “by itself” not been identified under the Constitution. The expression “by
itself” may indicate one of two meanings. The first is that the Constitution does not
recognise a standalone right to privacy. The second recognizes that there is no
express delineation of such a right. Evidently, the Court left the evolution of the
contours of the right to a case by case determination. Telephone conversations from
the home or office were construed to be an integral element of the privacy of an
individual. In PUCL, the Court consciously established the linkages between various
articles conferring guarantees of fundamental rights when it noted that wire-tapping
PART H
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infringes privacy and in consequence the right to life and personal liberty under Article
21 and the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). The need to
read the fundamental constitutional guarantees with a purpose illuminated by India’s
commitment to the international regime of human rights’ protection also weighed in
the decision. Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act was to be regulated by rules framed
by the Government to render the modalities of telephone tapping fair, just and
reasonable under Article 21. The importance which the Court ascribes to privacy is
evident from the fact that it did not await the eventual formulation of rules by
Parliament and prescribed that in the meantime, certain procedural safeguards which
it envisaged should be put into place.
62 While dealing with a case involving the rape of an eight year old child, a threejudge
Bench of this Court in State of Karnataka v Krishnappa91 held:
“Sexual violence apart from being… dehumanising… is an unlawful
intrusion of the right to privacy and sanctity… It… offends her…
dignity.”92
Similar observations were made in Sudhansu Sekhar Sahoo v State of Orissa93
.
63 In Sharda v Dharmpal94, the appellant and respondent were spouses. The
respondent sued for divorce and filed an application for conducting a medical
examination of the appellant which was opposed. The Trial Court allowed the
91 (2000) 4 SCC 75
92 Ibid, at page 82 (para 15)
93 (2002) 10 SCC 743
94 (2003) 4 SCC 493
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application. The High Court dismissed the challenge in a Civil Revision which led the
appellant to move this Court. The appellant argued before this Court that compelling
her to undergo a medical examination violated her personal liberty under Article 21
and that in the absence of an empowering provision, the matrimonial Court had no
jurisdiction to compel a party to undergo a medical examination. Justice S B Sinha,
speaking for the Bench of three judges, dealt with the first aspect of the matter
(whether a matrimonial Court has jurisdiction to order a medical examination) in the
following terms:
“Even otherwise the court may issue an appropriate direction so as
to satisfy itself as to whether apart from treatment he requires
adequate protection inter alia by way of legal aid so that he may not
be subject to an unjust order because of his incapacity. Keeping in
view of the fact that in a case of mental illness the court has
adequate power to examine the party or get him examined by a
qualified doctor, we are of the opinion that in an appropriate case
the court may take recourse to such a procedure even at the
instance of the party to the lis95…
Furthermore, the court must be held to have the requisite power
even under Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure to issue
such direction either suo motu or otherwise which, according to him,
would lead to the truth.96

64 The second question considered by the Court was whether a compulsive
subjecting of a person to a medical examination violates Article 21. After noticing the
observations in M P Sharma and Kharak Singh where it was held that the
Constitution has not guaranteed the right of privacy, the Court held that in subsequent
decisions, such a right has been read into Article 21 on an expansive interpretation of
95 Ibid, at page 513 (para 52)
96 Ibid, at page 513 (para 53)
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personal liberty. In the course of its judgment, the Court adverted to the decisions in
Rajagopal, PUCL, Gobind and Mr X v Hospital Z on the basis of which it stated that
it had “outlined the law relating to privacy in India”. In the view of this Court, in
matrimonial cases where a decree of divorce is sought on medical grounds, a medical
examination is the only way in which an allegation could be proved. In such a situation:
“If the respondent avoids such medical examination on the ground
that it violates his/her right to privacy or for that matter right to
personal liberty as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of
India, then it may in most of such cases become impossible to arrive
at a conclusion. It may render the very grounds on which divorce is
permissible nugatory. Therefore, when there is no right to privacy
specifically conferred by Article 21 of the Constitution of India and
with the extensive interpretation of the phrase “personal liberty” this
right has been read into Article 21, it cannot be treated as an
absolute right…”97
The right of privacy was held not to be breached.
65 In District Registrar and Collector, Hyderabad v Canara Bank98 (“Canara
Bank”), a Bench of two judges of this Court considered the provisions of the Indian
Stamp Act, 1899 (as amended by a special law in Andhra Pradesh). Section 73, which
was invalidated by the High Court, empowered the Collector to inspect registers,
books and records, papers, documents and proceedings in the custody of any public
officer ‘to secure any duty or to prove or would lead to the discovery of a fraud or
omission’. Section 73 was in the following terms:
97 Ibid, at page 523 (para 76)
98 (2005) 1 SCC 496
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63
“73. Every public officer having in his custody any registers, books,
records, papers, documents or proceedings, the inspection whereof
may tend to secure any duty, or to prove or lead to the discovery of
any fraud or omission in relation to any duty, shall at all reasonable
times permit any person authorised in writing by the Collector to
inspect for such purpose the registers, books, papers, documents
and proceedings, and to take such notes and extracts as he may
deem necessary, without fee or charge.”
After adverting to the evolution of the doctrine of privacy in the US from a right
associated with property99 to a right associated with the individual100, Chief Justice
Lahoti referred to the penumbras created by the Bill of Rights resulting in a zone of
privacy101 leading up eventually to a “reasonable expectation of privacy”102. Chief
Justice Lahoti considered the decision in M P Sharma to be “of limited help” to the
discussion on privacy. However, it was Kharak Singh which invalidated nightlydomiciliary
visits that provided guidance on the issue. The evaluation of Kharak
Singh was in the following terms:
“In…Kharak Singh v State of U P [(1964) 1 SCR 332 : (1963) 2
Cri LJ 329] the U.P. Regulations regarding domiciliary visits were in
question and the majority referred to Munn v. Illinois [94 US 113
: 24 L Ed 77 (1877)] and held that though our Constitution did
not refer to the right to privacy expressly, still it can be traced
from the right to “life” in Article 21. According to the majority,
clause 236 of the relevant Regulations in U.P., was bad in law; it
offended Article 21 inasmuch as there was no law permitting
interference by such visits. The majority did not go into the question
whether these visits violated the “right to privacy”. But, Subba Rao,
J. while concurring that the fundamental right to privacy was part of
the right to liberty in Article 21, part of the right to freedom of speech
and expression in Article 19(1)(a), and also of the right to movement
in Article 19(1)(d), held that the Regulations permitting surveillance
99 Boyd v United States, 116 US 616 (1886)
100 Olmstead v United States, 277 US 438 (1928)
101 Griswold v State of Connecticut, 381 US 479 (1965)
102 Katz v United States, 389 US 347 (1967)
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violated the fundamental right of privacy. In the discussion the
learned Judge referred to Wolf v. Colorado [338 US 25 : 93 L Ed
1782 (1949)] . In effect, all the seven learned Judges held that
the “right to privacy” was part of the right to “life” in Article
21.”103 (emphasis supplied)
The decision in Gobind is construed to have implied the right to privacy in Articles
19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution:
“We have referred in detail to the reasons given by Mathew, J.
in Gobind to show that, the right to privacy has been implied
in Articles 19(1)(a) and (d) and Article 21; that, the right is not
absolute and that any State intrusion can be a reasonable
restriction only if it has reasonable basis or reasonable materials to
support it.”104
(emphasis supplied)
The Court dealt with the application of Section 73 of the Indian Stamp Act (as
amended), to documents of a customer in the possession of a bank. The Court held:
“Once we have accepted in Gobind [(1975) 2 SCC 148 : 1975 SCC
(Cri) 468] and in later cases that the right to privacy deals with
“persons and not places”, the documents or copies of documents of
the customer which are in a bank, must continue to remain
confidential vis-à-vis the person, even if they are no longer at the
customer's house and have been voluntarily sent to a bank. If that
be the correct view of the law, we cannot accept the line
of Miller [425 US 435 (1976)] in which the Court proceeded on the
basis that the right to privacy is referable to the right of “property”
theory. Once that is so, then unless there is some probable or
reasonable cause or reasonable basis or material before the
Collector for reaching an opinion that the documents in the
possession of the bank tend to secure any duty or to prove or to
lead to the discovery of any fraud or omission in relation to any duty,
the search or taking notes or extracts therefore, cannot be valid.
The above safeguards must necessarily be read into the provision
103 Supra Note 95, at page 516 (para 36)
104 Ibid, at page 518 (para 39)
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65
relating to search and inspection and seizure so as to save it from
any unconstitutionality.”105
Hence the Court repudiated the notion that a person who places documents with a
bank would, as a result, forsake an expectation of confidentiality. In the view of the
Court, even if the documents cease to be at a place other than in the custody and
control of the customer, privacy attaches to persons and not places and hence the
protection of privacy is not diluted. Moreover, in the view of the Court, there has to be
a reasonable basis or material for the Collector to form an opinion that the documents
in the possession of the bank would secure the purpose of investigating into an act of
fraud or an omission in relation to duty. The safeguards which the Court introduced
were regarded as being implicit in the need to make a search of this nature
reasonable. The second part of the ruling of the Court is equally important for it finds
fault with a statutory provision which allows an excessive delegation of the power
conferred upon the Collector to inspect documents. The provision, the Court rules,
would allow the customers’ privacy to be breached by non-governmental persons.
Hence the statute, insofar as it allowed the Collector to authorize any person to seek
inspection, would be unenforceable. In the view of the Court:
“Secondly, the impugned provision in Section 73 enabling the
Collector to authorise “any person” whatsoever to inspect, to take
notes or extracts from the papers in the public office suffers from
the vice of excessive delegation as there are no guidelines in the
Act and more importantly, the section allows the facts relating to the
customer's privacy to reach non-governmental persons and would,
on that basis, be an unreasonable encroachment into the
customer's rights. This part of Section 73 permitting delegation to
105 Ibid, at page 523 (para 53)
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66
“any person” suffers from the above serious defects and for that
reason is, in our view, unenforceable. The State must clearly define
the officers by designation or state that the power can be delegated
to officers not below a particular rank in the official hierarchy, as
may be designated by the State.”106
66 The significance of the judgment in Canara Bank lies first in its reaffirmation of
the right to privacy as emanating from the liberties guaranteed by Article 19 and from
the protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21. Secondly, the Court finds
the foundation for the reaffirmation of this right not only in the judgments in Kharak
Singh and Gobind and the cases which followed, but also in terms of India’s
international commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thirdly, the right to
privacy is construed as a right which attaches to the person. The significance of this
is that the right to privacy is not lost as a result of confidential documents or information
being parted with by the customer to the custody of the bank. Fourthly, the Court
emphasised the need to read procedural safeguards to ensure that the power of
search and seizure of the nature contemplated by Section 73 is not exercised
arbitrarily. Fifthly, access to bank records to the Collector does not permit a delegation
of those powers by the Collector to a private individual. Hence even when the power
to inspect and search is validly exercisable by an organ of the state, necessary
safeguards would be required to ensure that the information does not travel to
unauthorised private hands. Sixthly, information provided by an individual to a third
party (in that case a bank) carries with it a reasonable expectation that it will be utilised
106 Ibid, at page 524 (para 54)
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only for the purpose for which it is provided. Parting with information (to the bank)
does not deprive the individual of the privacy interest. The reasonable expectation is
allied to the purpose for which information is provided. Seventhly, while legitimate
aims of the state, such as the protection of the revenue may intervene to permit a
disclosure to the state, the state must take care to ensure that the information is not
accessed by a private entity. The decision in Canara Bank has thus important
consequences for recognising informational privacy.
67 After the decision in Canara Bank, the provisions for search and seizure under
Section 132(5) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 were construed strictly by this Court in P
R Metrani v Commissioner of Income Tax107 on the ground that they constitute a
“serious intrusion into the privacy of a citizen”. Similarly, the search and seizure
provisions of Sections 42 and 43 of the NDPS108 Act were construed by this Court in
Directorate of Revenue v Mohd Nisar Holia109. Adverting to Canara Bank, among
other decisions, the Court held that the right to privacy is crucial and imposes a
requirement of a written recording of reasons before a search and seizure could be
carried out.
68 Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 prohibited the employment of “any
man under the age of 25 years” or “any woman” in any part of the premises in which
107 (2007) 1 SCC 789
108 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
109 (2008) 2 SCC 370
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68
liquor or an intoxicating drug is consumed by the public. The provision was also
challenged in Anuj Garg v Hotel Association of India110 on the ground that it violates
the right to privacy. While holding that the provision is ultra vires, the two-judge Bench
observed:
“Privacy rights prescribe autonomy to choose profession
whereas security concerns texture methodology of delivery of this
assurance. But it is a reasonable proposition that that the measures
to safeguard such a guarantee of autonomy should not be so strong
that the essence of the guarantee is lost. State protection must not
translate into censorship111…
Instead of prohibiting women employment in the bars altogether the
state should focus on factoring in ways through which unequal
consequences of sex differences can be eliminated. It is state’s duty
to ensure circumstances of safety which inspire confidence in
women to discharge the duty freely in accordance to the
requirements of the profession they choose to follow. Any other
policy inference (such as the one embodied under Section 30)
from societal conditions would be oppressive on the women
and against the privacy rights112…
The Court’s task is to determine whether the measures
furthered by the State in form of legislative mandate, to
augment the legitimate aim of protecting the interests of
women are proportionate to the other bulk of well-settled
gender norms such as autonomy, equality of opportunity, right
to privacy et al.113” (emphasis supplied)
69 In Hinsa Virodhak Sangh v Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat114 (“Hinsa
Virodhak Sangh”), this Court dealt with the closure of municipal slaughterhouses in
the city of Ahmedabad for a period of nine days each year during the Jain observance
110 (2008) 3 SCC 1
111 Ibid, at page 15 (para 35)
112 Ibid, at pages 16-17 (para 43)
113 Ibid, at page 19 (para 51)
114 (2008) 5 SCC 33
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of paryushan, pursuant to the resolution of the municipal corporation. The High Court
had set aside the resolutions. In appeal, this Court observed as follows:
“Had the impugned resolutions ordered closure of municipal
slaughterhouses for a considerable period of time we may have
held the impugned resolutions to be invalid being an excessive
restriction on the rights of the butchers of Ahmedabad who practise
their profession of meat selling. After all, butchers are practising a
trade and it is their fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the
Constitution which is guaranteed to all citizens of India. Moreover,
it is not a matter of the proprietor of the butchery shop alone. There
may be also several workmen therein who may become
unemployed if the slaughterhouses are closed for a considerable
period of time, because one of the conditions of the licence given
to the shop-owners is to supply meat regularly in the city of
Ahmedabad and this supply comes from the municipal
slaughterhouses of Ahmedabad. Also, a large number of people are
non-vegetarian and they cannot be compelled to become
vegetarian for a long period. What one eats is one's personal
affair and it is a part of his right to privacy which is included in
Article 21 of our Constitution as held by several decisions of
this Court. In R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N. [(1994) 6 SCC 632 :
AIR 1995 SC 264] (vide SCC para 26 : AIR para 28) this Court held
that the right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty
guaranteed by Article 21. It is a “right to be let alone”.”115
(emphasis supplied)
However, since the closure of slaughterhouses was for a period of nine days, the
Court came to the conclusion that it did not encroach upon the freedom guaranteed
by Article 19(1)(g). The restriction was held not to be excessive.
115 Ibid, at pages 46-47 (para 27)
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70 The decision in the State of Maharashtra v Bharat Shanti Lal Shah116 deals
with the constitutional validity of Sections 13 to 16 of the Maharashtra Control of
Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) which inter alia contains provisions for intercepting
telephone and wireless communications. Upholding the provision, the Court
observed:
“The object of MCOCA is to prevent the organised crime and a
perusal of the provisions of the Act under challenge would indicate
that the said law authorises the interception of wire, electronic or
oral communication only if it is intended to prevent the commission
of an organised crime or if it is intended to collect the evidence to
the commission of such an organised crime. The procedures
authorising such interception are also provided therein with enough
procedural safeguards, some of which are indicated and discussed
hereinbefore.”117
The safeguards that the Court adverts to in the above extract include Section 14,
which requires details of the organized crime that is being committed or is about to be
committed, before surveillance could be authorized. The requirements also mandate
describing the nature and location of the facilities from which the communication is to
be intercepted, the nature of the communication and the identity of the person, if it is
known. A statement is also necessary on whether other modes of enquiry or
intelligence gathering were tried or had failed or why they reasonably appear to be
unlikely to succeed if tried or whether these would be too dangerous or would likely
result in the identification of those connected with the operation. The duration of the
surveillance is restricted in time and the provision requires “minimal interception”118
.
116 (2008) 13 SCC 5
117 Ibid, at page 28 (para 61)
118 Gautam Bhatia (supra note 82), at page 148
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71 During the course of the last decade, this Court has had occasion to deal with
the autonomy of a woman and, as an integral part, her control over the body. Suchita
Srivastava v Chandigarh Administration119 (“Suchita Srivastava”) arose in the
context of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) Act, 1971. A woman who
was alleged to have been raped while residing in a welfare institution run by the
government was pregnant. The district administration moved the High Court to seek
termination of the pregnancy. The High Court directed that the pregnancy be
terminated though medical experts had opined that the victim had expressed her
willingness to bear the child. The High Court had issued this direction without the
consent of the woman which was mandated under the statute where the woman is a
major and does not suffer from a mental illness. The woman in this case was found to
suffer from a case of mild to moderate mental retardation. Speaking for a Bench of
three judges, Chief Justice Balakrishnan held that the reproductive choice of the
woman should be respected having regard to the mandate of Section 3. In the view
of the Court:
“There is no doubt that a woman's right to make reproductive
choices is also a dimension of “personal liberty” as understood
under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is important to
recognise that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate
as well as to abstain from procreating. The crucial consideration
is that a woman's right to privacy, dignity and bodily integrity
should be respected. This means that there should be no
restriction whatsoever on the exercise of reproductive choices such
as a woman's right to refuse participation in sexual activity or
alternatively the insistence on use of contraceptive methods.
Furthermore, women are also free to choose birth control methods
such as undergoing sterilisation procedures. Taken to their logical
119 (2009) 9 SCC 1
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conclusion, reproductive rights include a woman's entitlement
to carry a pregnancy to its full term, to give birth and to
subsequently raise children. However, in the case of pregnant
women there is also a “compelling State interest” in protecting the
life of the prospective child. Therefore, the termination of a
pregnancy is only permitted when the conditions specified in the
applicable statute have been fulfilled. Hence, the provisions of the
MTP Act, 1971 can also be viewed as reasonable restrictions that
have been placed on the exercise of reproductive choices.”120
(emphasis supplied)
The Court noted that the statute requires the consent of a guardian where the woman
has not attained majority or is mentally ill. In the view of the Court, there is a distinction
between mental illness and mental retardation and hence the State which was incharge
of the welfare institution was bound to respect the personal autonomy of the
woman.
72 The decision in Suchita Srivastava dwells on the statutory right of a woman
under the MTP Act to decide whether or not to consent to a termination of pregnancy
and to have that right respected where she does not consent to termination. The
statutory recognition of the right is relatable to the constitutional right to make
reproductive choices which has been held to be an ingredient of personal liberty under
Article 21. The Court deduced the existence of such a right from a woman’s right to
privacy, dignity and bodily integrity.
120 Ibid, at page 15 (para 22)
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73 In Bhavesh Jayanti Lakhani v State of Maharashtra121, this Court dealt with
a challenge to the validity of an arrest warrant issued by a US court and a red corner
notice issued by INTERPOL on the ground that the petitioner had, in violation of an
interim custody order, returned to India with the child. The Court did not accept the
submission that the CBI, by coordinating with INTERPOL had breached the
petitioner’s right of privacy. However, during the course of the discussion, this Court
held as follows:
“Right to privacy is not enumerated as a fundamental right either in
terms of Article 21 of the Constitution of India or otherwise. It,
however, by reason of an elaborate interpretation by this Court
in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. [AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1964) 1 SCR
332] was held to be an essential ingredient of “personal liberty”.”122
“This Court, however, in Gobind v. State of M.P. upon taking an
elaborate view of the matter in regard to right to privacy vis-à-vis
the Madhya Pradesh Police Regulations dealing with surveillance,
opined that the said Regulations did not violate the “procedure
established by law”. However, a limited fundamental right to privacy
as emanating from Articles 19(1)(a), (d) and 21 was upheld, but the
same was held to be not absolute wherefore reasonable restrictions
could be placed in terms of clause (5) of Article 19.”123
74 In Selvi v State of Karnataka124 (“Selvi”), a Bench of three judges of this Court
dealt with a challenge to the validity of three investigative techniques: narco-analysis,
polygraph test (lie-detector test) and Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP) on the
ground that they implicate the fundamental rights under Articles 20(3) and 21 of the
Constitution. The Court held that the results obtained through an involuntary
121 (2009) 9 SCC 551
122 Ibid, at pages 584-585 (para 102)
123 Ibid, at page 585 (para 103)
124 (2010) 7 SCC 263
PART H
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administration of these tests are within the scope of a testimonial, attracting the
protective shield of Article 20(3) of the Constitution. Chief Justice Balakrishnan
adverted to the earlier decisions rendered in the context of privacy and noted that thus
far, judicial understanding had stressed mostly on the protection of the body and
physical actions induced by the state. The Court emphasised that while the right
against self-incrimination is a component of personal liberty under Article 21, privacy
under the constitution has a meeting point with Article 20(3) as well. In the view of
the Court:
“The theory of interrelationship of rights mandates that the right
against self-incrimination should also be read as a component of
“personal liberty” under Article 21. Hence, our understanding of the
“right to privacy” should account for its intersection with Article
20(3). Furthermore, the “rule against involuntary confessions” as
embodied in Sections 24, 25, 26 and 27 of the Evidence Act, 1872
seeks to serve both the objectives of reliability as well as
voluntariness of testimony given in a custodial setting. A conjunctive
reading of Articles 20(3) and 21 of the Constitution along with the
principles of evidence law leads us to a clear answer. We must
recognise the importance of personal autonomy in aspects such as
the choice between remaining silent and speaking. An individual's
decision to make a statement is the product of a private choice and
there should be no scope for any other individual to interfere with
such autonomy, especially in circumstances where the person
faces exposure to criminal charges or penalties…
Therefore, it is our considered opinion that subjecting a person to
the impugned techniques in an involuntary manner violates the
prescribed boundaries of privacy. Forcible interference with a
person's mental processes is not provided for under any statute and
it most certainly comes into conflict with the “right against selfincrimination”.”125
125 Ibid, at pages 369-370 (paras 225-226)
PART H
75
In tracing the right to privacy under Article 20(3), as well as Article 21, the decision
marks a definite shift away from the M P Sharma rationale. The right not to be
compelled to speak or to incriminate oneself when accused of an offence is an
embodiment of the right to privacy. Selvi indicates how the right to privacy can
straddle the ambit of several constitutional rights - in that case, Articles 20(3) and 21.
75 In Bhabani Prasad Jena v Orissa State Commission for Women126, the Court
was considering the question whether the High Court was justified in issuing a
direction for a DNA test of a child and the appellant who, according to the mother of
the child, was the father. It was held that:
“In a matter where paternity of a child is in issue before the court,
the use of DNA test is an extremely delicate and sensitive aspect.
One view is that when modern science gives the means of
ascertaining the paternity of a child, there should not be any
hesitation to use those means whenever the occasion requires. The
other view is that the court must be reluctant in the use of such
scientific advances and tools which result in invasion of right to
privacy of an individual and may not only be prejudicial to the rights
of the parties but may have devastating effect on the child.
Sometimes the result of such scientific test may bastardise an
innocent child even though his mother and her spouse were living
together during the time of conception.”127
76 In Amar Singh v Union of India128, a Bench of two judges of this Court dealt
with a petition under Article 32 alleging that the fundamental right to privacy of the
126 (2010) 8 SCC 633
127 Ibid, at page 642 (para 21)
128 (2011) 7 SCC 69
PART H
76
petitioner was being breached by intercepting his conversations on telephone services
provided by a service provider. The Court held:
“Considering the materials on record, this Court is of the opinion
that it is no doubt true that the service provider has to act on an
urgent basis and has to act in public interest. But in a given case,
like the present one, where the impugned communication dated 9-
11-2005 is full of gross mistakes, the service provider while
immediately acting upon the same, should simultaneously verify the
authenticity of the same from the author of the document. This
Court is of the opinion that the service provider has to act as a
responsible agency and cannot act on any communication.
Sanctity and regularity in official communication in such
matters must be maintained especially when the service
provider is taking the serious step of intercepting the
telephone conversation of a person and by doing so is
invading the privacy right of the person concerned and which
is a fundamental right protected under the Constitution, as has
been held by this Court.”129
(emphasis supplied)
77 In Ram Jethmalani v Union of India
130 (“Ram Jethmalani”), a Bench of two
judges was dealing with a public interest litigation concerned with unaccounted
monies and seeking the appointment of a Special Investigating Team to follow and
investigate a money trail. This Court held that the revelation of the details of the bank
accounts of individuals without the establishment of a prima facie ground of
wrongdoing would be a violation of the right to privacy. This Court observed thus:
“Right to privacy is an integral part of right to life. This is a cherished
constitutional value, and it is important that human beings be
allowed domains of freedom that are free of public scrutiny unless
they act in an unlawful manner. We understand and appreciate the
fact that the situation with respect to unaccounted for monies is
129 Ibid, at page 84 (para 39)
130 (2011) 8 SCC 1
PART H
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extremely grave. Nevertheless, as constitutional adjudicators we
always have to be mindful of preserving the sanctity of constitutional
values, and hasty steps that derogate from fundamental rights,
whether urged by Governments or private citizens, howsoever well
meaning they may be, have to be necessarily very carefully
scrutinised. The solution for the problem of abrogation of one zone
of constitutional values cannot be the creation of another zone of
abrogation of constitutional values…
The rights of citizens, to effectively seek the protection of
fundamental rights, under clause (1) of Article 32 have to be
balanced against the rights of citizens and persons under Article 21.
The latter cannot be sacrificed on the anvil of fervid desire to find
instantaneous solutions to systemic problems such as unaccounted
for monies, for it would lead to dangerous circumstances, in which
vigilante investigations, inquisitions and rabble rousing, by masses
of other citizens could become the order of the day. The right of
citizens to petition this Court for upholding of fundamental rights is
granted in order that citizens, inter alia, are ever vigilant about the
functioning of the State in order to protect the constitutional project.
That right cannot be extended to being inquisitors of fellow citizens.
An inquisitorial order, where citizens' fundamental right to
privacy is breached by fellow citizens is destructive of social
order. The notion of fundamental rights, such as a right to
privacy as part of right to life, is not merely that the State is
enjoined from derogating from them. It also includes the
responsibility of the State to uphold them against the actions
of others in the society, even in the context of exercise of
fundamental rights by those others.”131 (emphasis supplied)
The Court held that while the State could access details of the bank accounts of
citizens as an incident of its power to investigate and prosecute crime, this would not
enable a private citizen to compel a citizen to reveal bank accounts to the public at
large.
131 Ibid, at pages 35-36 (paras 83-84)
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78 In Sanjoy Narayan v High Court of Allahabad132, the two-judge Bench dealt
with a contempt petition in respect of publication of an incorrect report in a newspaper
which tarnished the image of the Chief Justice of a High Court. The Court made the
following observations:
“The unbridled power of the media can become dangerous if check
and balance is not inherent in it. The role of the media is to
provide to the readers and the public in general with
information and views tested and found as true and correct.
This power must be carefully regulated and must reconcile with
a person's fundamental right to privacy.”133 (emphasis supplied)
79 In Ramlila Maidan Incident v Home Secretary, Union of India134
, Justice B
S Chauhan in a concurring judgment held that:
“Right to privacy has been held to be a fundamental right of the
citizen being an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India
by this Court. Illegitimate intrusion into privacy of a person is not
permissible as right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty
guaranteed under our Constitution. Such a right has been extended
even to woman of easy virtues as she has been held to be entitled
to her right of privacy. However, right of privacy may not be absolute
and in exceptional circumstance particularly surveillance in
consonance with the statutory provisions may not violate such a
right.”135
In the view of the Court, privacy and dignity of human life have “always been
considered a fundamental human right of every human being” like other constitutional
values such as free speech. We must also take notice of the construction placed by
132 (2011) 13 SCC 155
133 Ibid, at page 156 (para 6)
134 (2012) 5 SCC 1
135 Ibid, at pages 119-120 (para 312)
PART H
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the judgment on the decision in Kharak Singh as having “held that the right to privacy
is a part of life under Article 21 of the Constitution” and which was reiterated in PUCL.
80 The judgment of a Bench of two judges of this Court in Bihar Public Service
Commission v Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi136 dealt with the provisions of Section
8(1)(g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. A person claiming to be a public-spirited
citizen sought information under the statute from the Bihar Public Service Commission
on a range of matters relating to interviews conducted by it on two days. The
commission disclosed the information save and except for the names of the interview
board. The High Court directed disclosure. Section 8(1)(g) provides an exemption
from disclosure of information of the following nature:
“information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or
physical safety of any person or identify the source of information
or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement and security
purposes.”
Justice Swatanter Kumar, speaking for the Court, held thus:
“Certain matters, particularly in relation to appointment, are
required to be dealt with great confidentiality. The information may
come to knowledge of the authority as a result of disclosure by
others who give that information in confidence and with complete
faith, integrity and fidelity. Secrecy of such information shall be
maintained, thus, bringing it within the ambit of fiduciary capacity.
Similarly, there may be cases where the disclosure has no
relationship to any public activity or interest or it may even
cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual. All
these protections have to be given their due implementation as they
spring from statutory exemptions. It is not a decision simpliciter
between private interest and public interest. It is a matter
136 (2012) 13 SCC 61
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80
where a constitutional protection is available to a person with
regard to the right to privacy. Thus, the public interest has to be
construed while keeping in mind the balance factor between right to
privacy and right to information with the purpose sought to be
achieved and the purpose that would be served in the larger public
interest, particularly when both these rights emerge from the
constitutional values under the Constitution of India.”137
(emphasis supplied)
Significantly, though the Court was construing the text of a statutory exemption
contained in Section 8, it dwelt on the privacy issues involved in the disclosure of
information furnished in confidence by adverting to the constitutional right to privacy.
81 The decision Lillu @Rajesh v State of Haryana138 emphasized the right of
rape survivors to privacy, physical and mental integrity and dignity. The Court held
thus:
“In view of International Covenant on Economic, Social, and
Cultural Rights 1966; United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles
of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power 1985, rape
survivors are entitled to legal recourse that does not retraumatize
them or violate their physical or mental integrity and dignity. They
are also entitled to medical procedures conducted in a manner that
respects their right to consent. Medical procedures should not be
carried out in a manner that constitutes cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment and health should be of paramount
consideration while dealing with gender-based violence. The
State is under an obligation to make such services available to
survivors of sexual violence. Proper measures should be
taken to ensure their safety and there should be no arbitrary or
unlawful interference with his privacy.”
139
(emphasis supplied)
137 Ibid, at page 74 (para 23)
138 (2013) 14 SCC 643
139 Ibid, at page 648 (para 13)
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81
82 In Thalappalam Service Cooperative Bank Limited v State of Kerala140
,
another Bench of two judges considered the correctness of a decision of the Kerala
High Court which upheld a circular issued by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies.
By the circular all cooperative institutions under his administrative control were
declared to be public authorities within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Right to
Information Act, 2005. Section 8(j) contains an exemption from the disclosure of
personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or
which would cause “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual” unless the
authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies its disclosure. This Court
observed that the right to privacy has been recognized as a part of Article 21 of the
Constitution and the statutory provisions contained in Section 8(j) of the RTI Act have
been enacted by the legislature in recognition of the constitutional protection of
privacy. The Court held thus:
“The right to privacy is also not expressly guaranteed under the
Constitution of India. However, the Privacy Bill, 2011 to provide for
the right to privacy to citizens of India and to regulate the collection,
maintenance and dissemination of their personal information and
for penalisation for violation of such rights and matters connected
therewith, is pending. In several judgments including Kharak
Singh v. State of U.P .[AIR 1963 SC 1295 : (1963) 2 Cri LJ 329] , R.
Rajagopal v. State of T.N. [(1994) 6 SCC 632] , People's Union for
Civil Liberties v. Union of India [(1997) 1 SCC 301] and State of
Maharashtra v. Bharat Shanti Lal Shah [(2008) 13 SCC 5] this
Court has recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental right
emanating from Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”141
“Recognising the fact that the right to privacy is a sacrosanct facet
of Article 21 of the Constitution, the legislation has put a lot of
140 (2013) 16 SCC 82
141 Ibid, at page 112 (para 57)
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82
safeguards to protect the rights under Section 8(j), as already
indicated.”142
This Court held that on facts the cooperative societies were not public authorities and
the decision under challenge was quashed.
83 In Manoj Narula v Union of India143, a Constitution Bench of this Court was
hearing a petition filed in the public interest complaining of the increasing
criminalization of politics. Dealing with the provisions of Article 75(1) of the
Constitution, Justice Dipak Misra, while explaining the doctrine of “constitutional
implications”, considered whether the Court could read a disqualification into the
provisions made by the Constitution in addition to those which have been provided by
the legislature. In that context, the leading judgment observes:
“In this regard, inclusion of many a facet within the ambit of Article
21 is well established. In R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N. [(1994) 6
SCC 632] , right to privacy has been inferred from Article 21.
Similarly, in Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P. [(1994) 4 SCC 260 :
1994 SCC (Cri) 1172 : AIR 1994 SC 1349] , inherent rights under
Articles 21 and 22 have been stated. Likewise, while dealing with
freedom of speech and expression and freedom of press, the Court,
in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras [AIR 1950 SC 124 : (1950)
51 Cri LJ 1514] , has observed that freedom of speech and
expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas…
There is no speck of doubt that the Court has applied the doctrine
of implication to expand the constitutional concepts, but the context
in which the horizon has been expanded has to be borne in mind…
142 Ibid, at page 114 (para 64)
143 (2014) 9 SCC 1
PART H
83
At this juncture, it is seemly to state that the principle of implication
is fundamentally founded on rational inference of an idea from the
words used in the text…
Any proposition that is arrived at taking this route of interpretation
must find some resting pillar or strength on the basis of certain
words in the text or the scheme of the text. In the absence of that,
it may not be permissible for a court to deduce any proposition as
that would defeat the legitimacy of reasoning. A proposition can be
established by reading a number of articles cohesively, for that will
be in the domain of substantive legitimacy.”144 (emphasis supplied)
84 In National Legal Services Authority v Union of India145 (“NALSA”), a
Bench of two judges, while dealing with the rights of transgenders, adverted to
international conventions acceded to by India including the UDHR and ICCPR.
Provisions in these conventions which confer a protection against arbitrary and
unlawful interference with a person’s privacy, family and home would, it was held, be
read in a manner which harmonizes the fundamental rights contained in Articles 14,
15, 19 and 21 with India’s international obligations. Justice K S Radhakrishnan held
that:
“Gender identity, therefore, lies at the core of one's personal
identity, gender expression and presentation and, therefore, it will
have to be protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of
India. A transgender's personality could be expressed by the
transgender's behaviour and presentation. State cannot prohibit,
restrict or interfere with a transgender's expression of such
personality, which reflects that inherent personality. Often the State
and its authorities either due to ignorance or otherwise fail to digest
the innate character and identity of such persons. We, therefore,
hold that values of privacy, self-identity, autonomy and personal
integrity are fundamental rights guaranteed to members of the
transgender community under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of
144 Ibid, at pages 47-48 (paras 69-70)
145 (2014) 5 SCC 438
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India and the State is bound to protect and recognise those
rights.”146
Explaining the ambit of Article 21, the Court noted:
“Article 21 is the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution, which
speaks of the rights to life and personal liberty. Right to life is one
of the basic fundamental rights and not even the State has the
authority to violate or take away that right. Article 21 takes all those
aspects of life which go to make a person's life meaningful. Article
21 protects the dignity of human life, one's personal autonomy,
one's right to privacy, etc. Right to dignity has been recognised to
be an essential part of the right to life and accrues to all persons on
account of being humans. In Francis Coralie Mullin v. UT of
Delhi[(1981) 1 SCC 608 : 1981 SCC (Cri) 212] (SCC pp. 618-19,
paras 7 and 8), this Court held that the right to dignity forms an
essential part of our constitutional culture which seeks to ensure the
full development and evolution of persons and includes “expressing
oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and
comingling with fellow human beings…147
Article 21, as already indicated, guarantees the protection of
“personal autonomy” of an individual. In Anuj Garg v. Hotel Assn. of
India [(2008) 3 SCC 1] (SCC p. 15, paras 34-35), this Court held
that personal autonomy includes both the negative right of not to be
subject to interference by others and the positive right of individuals
to make decisions about their life, to express themselves and to
choose which activities to take part in. Self-determination of gender
is an integral part of personal autonomy and self-expression and
falls within the realm of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21
of the Constitution of India.148

Dr Justice A K Sikri wrote a lucid concurring judgment.
146 Ibid, at page 490 (para 72)
147 Ibid, at page 490 (para 73)
148 Ibid, at page 491 (para 75)
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85
NALSA indicates the rationale for grounding of a right to privacy in the protection of
gender identity within Article 15. The intersection of Article 15 with Article 21 locates
a constitutional right to privacy as an expression of individual autonomy, dignity and
identity. NALSA indicates that the right to privacy does not necessarily have to fall
within the ambit of any one provision in the chapter on fundamental rights. Intersecting
rights recognise the right to privacy. Though primarily, it is in the guarantee of life and
personal liberty under Article 21 that a constitutional right to privacy dwells, it is
enriched by the values incorporated in other rights which are enumerated in Part III of
the Constitution.
85 In ABC v The State (NCT of Delhi)149
, the Court dealt with the question
whether it is imperative for an unwed mother to specifically notify the putative father
of the child of her petition for appointment as guardian of her child. It was stated by
the mother of the child that she does not want the future of her child to be marred by
any controversy regarding his paternity, which would indubitably result should the
father refuse to acknowledge the child as his own. It was her contention that her own
fundamental right to privacy will be violated if she is compelled to disclose the name
and particulars of the father of her child. Looking into the interest of the child, the
Bench directed that “if a single parent/unwed mother applies for the issuance of a Birth
Certificate for a child born from her womb, the Authorities concerned may only require
149 (2015) 10 SCC 1
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86
her to furnish an affidavit to this effect, and must thereupon issue the Birth Certificate,
unless there is a Court direction to the contrary”150
.
86 While considering the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth
Amendment) Act, 2014 which enunciated an institutional process for the appointment
of judges, the concurring judgment of Justice Madan B Lokur in Supreme Court
Advocates on Record Association v Union of India151 dealt with privacy issues
involved if disclosures were made about a candidate under consideration for
appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court or High Court. Dealing with the right to
know of the general public on the one hand and the right to privacy on the other hand,
Justice Lokur noted that the latter is an “implicit fundamental right that all people
enjoy”. Justice Lokur observed thus:
“The balance between transparency and confidentiality is very
delicate and if some sensitive information about a particular person
is made public, it can have a far-reaching impact on his/her
reputation and dignity. The 99th Constitution Amendment Act and
the NJAC Act have not taken note of the privacy concerns of an
individual. This is important because it was submitted by the
learned Attorney General that the proceedings of NJAC will be
completely transparent and any one can have access to information
that is available with NJAC. This is a rather sweeping
generalization which obviously does not take into account the
privacy of a person who has been recommended for
appointment, particularly as a Judge of the High Court or in the
first instance as a Judge of the Supreme Court. The right to
know is not a fundamental right but at best it is an implicit
fundamental right and it is hedged in with the implicit
fundamental right to privacy that all people enjoy. The balance
between the two implied fundamental rights is difficult to maintain,
150 Ibid, at page 18 (para 28)
151 (2016) 5 SCC 1
PART H
87
but the 99th Constitution Amendment Act and the NJAC Act do not
even attempt to consider, let alone achieve that balance.”152
(emphasis supplied)
87 A comprehensive analysis of precedent has been necessary because it
indicates the manner in which the debate on the existence of a constitutional right to
privacy has progressed. The content of the constitutional right to privacy and its
limitations have proceeded on a case to case basis, each precedent seeking to build
upon and follow the previous formulations. The doctrinal foundation essentially rests
upon the trilogy of M P Sharma – Kharak Singh – Gobind upon which subsequent
decisions including those in Rajagopal, PUCL, Canara Bank, Selvi and NALSA have
contributed. Reconsideration of the doctrinal basis cannot be complete without
evaluating what the trilogy of cases has decided.
88 M P Sharma dealt with a challenge to a search on the ground that the statutory
provision which authorized it, violated the guarantee against self-incrimination in
Article 20(3). In the absence of a specific provision like the Fourth Amendment to the
US Constitution in the Indian Constitution, the Court answered the challenge by its
ruling that an individual who is subject to a search during the course of which material
is seized does not make a voluntary testimonial statement of the nature that would
attract Article 20(3). The Court distinguished a compulsory search from a voluntary
statement of disclosure in pursuance of a notice issued by an authority to produce
152 Ibid, at page 676 (para 953)
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88
documents. It was the former category that was held to be involved in a compulsive
search, which the Court held would not attract the guarantee against selfincrimination.
The judgment, however, proceeded further to hold that in the absence
of the right to privacy having been enumerated in the Constitution, a provision like the
Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution could not be read into our own. The
observation in regard to the absence of the right to privacy in our Constitution was
strictly speaking, not necessary for the decision of the Court in M P Sharma and the
observation itself is no more than a passing observation. Moreover, the decision does
not adjudicate upon whether privacy could be a constitutionally protected right under
any other provision such as Article 21 or under Article 19.
89 Kharak Singh does not contain a reference to M P Sharma. The decision of
the majority in Kharak Singh is essentially divided into two parts; the first dealing with
the validity of a regulation for nocturnal domiciliary visits (which was struck down) and
the second dealing with the rest of the regulation (which was upheld). The decision
on the first part, which dealt with Regulation 236(b) conveys an inescapable
impression that the regulation invaded the sanctity of the home and was a violation of
ordered liberty. Though the reasoning of the Court does not use the expression
‘privacy’, it alludes to the decision of the US Supreme Court in Wolf v Colorado, which
deals with privacy. Besides, the portion extracted in the judgment has a reference to
privacy specifically at two places. While holding domiciliary visits at night to be invalid,
the Court drew sustenance from the right to life under Article 21 which means
PART H
89
something more than a mere animal existence. The right under Article 21 includes the
enjoyment of those faculties which render the right meaningful. Hence, the first part
of the decision in Kharak Singh represents an amalgam of life, personal liberty and
privacy. It protects interests which are grounded in privacy under the rubric of liberty.
The difficulty in construing the decision arises because in the second part of its
decision, the majority upheld the rest of the regulation and observed (while doing so)
that there is an absence of a protected right to privacy under the Constitution. These
observations in the second part are at variance with those dealing with the first. The
view about the absence of a right to privacy is an isolated observation which cannot
coexist with the essential determination rendered on the first aspect of the regulation.
Subsequent Benches of this Court in the last five decades and more, have attempted
to make coherent doctrine out of the uneasy coexistence between the first and the
second parts of the decision in Kharak Singh. Several of them rely on the protection
of interests grounded in privacy in the first part, under the conceptual foundation of
ordered liberty.
90 Gobind proceeded on the basis of an assumption and explains what according
to the Court would be the content of the right to privacy if it is held to be a constitutional
right. Gobind underlines that the right would be intrinsic to ordered liberty and would
cover intimate matters such as family, marriage and procreation. Gobind, while
recognizing that the right would not be absolute and would be subject to the regulatory
power of the State, conditioned the latter on the existence of a compelling state
PART H
90
interest. The decision also brings in the requirement of a narrow tailoring of the
regulation to meet the needs of a compelling interest. The Bench which decided
Gobind adverted to the decision in Kharak Singh (though not M P Sharma). Be that
as it may, Gobind has proceeded on the basis of an assumption that the right to
privacy is a constitutionally protected right in India. Subsequent decisions of this Court
have treated the formulation of a right to privacy as one that emerges out of Kharak
Singh or Gobind (or both). Evidently, it is the first part of the decision in Kharak
Singh which is construed as having recognized a constitutional entitlement to privacy
without reconciling the second part which contains a specific observation on the
absence of a protected constitutional right to privacy in the Constitution. Succeeding
Benches of smaller strength were not obviously in a position to determine the
correctness of the M P Sharma and Kharak Singh formulations. They had to weave
a jurisprudence of privacy as new challenges emerged from a variety of sources: wiretapping,
narco-analysis, gender based identity, medical information, informational
autonomy and other manifestations of privacy. As far as the decisions following upon
Gobind are concerned, it does emerge that the assumptions which find specific
mention in several parts of the decision were perhaps not adequately placed in
perspective. Gobind has been construed by subsequent Benches as affirming the
right to privacy.
91 The right to privacy has been traced in the decisions which have been rendered
over more than four decades to the guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article 21
PART H
91
and the freedoms set out in Article 19. In addition, India’s commitment to a world order
founded on respect for human rights has been noticed along with the specific articles
of the UDHR and the ICCPR which embody the right to privacy.153 In the view of this
Court, international law has to be construed as a part of domestic law in the absence
of legislation to the contrary and, perhaps more significantly, the meaning of
constitutional guarantees must be illuminated by the content of international
conventions to which India is a party. Consequently, as new cases brought new issues
and problems before the Court, the content of the right to privacy has found
elaboration in these diverse contexts. These would include telephone tapping (PUCL),
prior restraints on publication of material on a death row convict (Rajagopal),
inspection and search of confidential documents involving the banker - customer
relationship (Canara Bank), disclosure of HIV status (Mr X v Hospital Z), food
preferences and animal slaughter (Hinsa Virodhak Sangh), medical termination of
pregnancy (Suchita Srivastava), scientific tests in criminal investigation (Selvi),
disclosure of bank accounts held overseas (Ram Jethmalani) and the right of
transgenders (NALSA). Early cases dealt with police regulations authorising
intrusions on liberty, such as surveillance. As Indian society has evolved, the assertion
of the right to privacy has been considered by this Court in varying contexts replicating
the choices and autonomy of the individual citizen.
153 See Rishika Taneja and Sidhant Kumar, Privacy Law: Principles, Injunctions and Compensation, Eastern
Book Company (2014), for a comprehensive account on the right to privacy and privacy laws in India.
PART I
92
92 The deficiency, however, is in regard to a doctrinal formulation of the basis on
which it can be determined as to whether the right to privacy is constitutionally
protected. M P Sharma need not have answered the question; Kharak Singh dealt
with it in a somewhat inconsistent formulation while Gobind rested on assumption. M
P Sharma being a decision of eight judges, this Bench has been called upon to decide
on the objection of the Union of India to the existence of such a right in the first place.
I The Indian Constitution
Preamble
93 The Preamble to the Constitution postulates that the people of India have
resolved to constitute India into a Republic which (among other things) is Sovereign
and Democratic and to secure to all its citizens:
“JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among
them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of
the Nation;…”
94 In Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan154, Justice Mudholkar alluded to the fact
that the Preamble to our Constitution is “not of the common run” as is the Preamble
in a legislative enactment but was marked both by a “stamp of deep deliberation” and
154 (1965) 1 SCR 933
PART I
93
precision. This was suggestive, in the words of the Court, of the special significance
attached to the Preamble by the framers of the Constitution.
95 In Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala155 (“Kesavananda Bharati”),
Chief Justice Sikri noticed that the Preamble is a part of the Constitution. The
Preamble emphasises the need to secure to all citizens justice, liberty, equality and
fraternity. Together they constitute the founding faith or the blueprint of values
embodied with a sense of permanence in the constitutional document. The Preamble
speaks of securing liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Fraternity
is to be promoted to assure the dignity of the individual. The individual lies at the core
of constitutional focus and the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity animate
the vision of securing a dignified existence to the individual. The Preamble envisions
a social ordering in which fundamental constitutional values are regarded as
indispensable to the pursuit of happiness. Such fundamental values have also found
reflection in the foundational document of totalitarian regimes in other parts of the
world. What distinguishes India is the adoption of a democratic way of life, founded
on the rule of law. Democracy accepts differences of perception, acknowledges
divergences in ways of life, and respects dissent.
155 (1973) 4 SCC 225
PART I
94
Jurisprudence on dignity
96 Over the last four decades, our constitutional jurisprudence has recognised the
inseparable relationship between protection of life and liberty with dignity. Dignity as
a constitutional value finds expression in the Preamble. The constitutional vision
seeks the realisation of justice (social, economic and political); liberty (of thought,
expression, belief, faith and worship); equality (as a guarantee against arbitrary
treatment of individuals) and fraternity (which assures a life of dignity to every
individual). These constitutional precepts exist in unity to facilitate a humane and
compassionate society. The individual is the focal point of the Constitution because it
is in the realisation of individual rights that the collective well being of the community
is determined. Human dignity is an integral part of the Constitution. Reflections of
dignity are found in the guarantee against arbitrariness (Article 14), the lamps of
freedom (Article 19) and in the right to life and personal liberty (Article 21).
97 In Prem Shankar Shukla v Delhi Administration156
, which arose from the
handcuffing of the prisoners, Justice Krishna Iyer, speaking for a three-judge Bench
of this Court held:
“…the guarantee of human dignity, which forms part of our
constitutional culture, and the positive provisions of Articles 14, 19
and 21 spring into action when we realise that to manacle man is
more than to mortify him; it is to dehumanize him and, therefore, to
156 (1980) 3 SCC 526
PART I
95
violate his very personhood, too often using the mask of
'dangerousness' and security…157
The Preamble sets the humane tone and temper of the Founding
Document and highlights Justice, Equality and the dignity of the
individual. 158”
98 A Bench of two judges in Francis Coralie Mullin v Union Territory of Delhi159
(“Francis Coralie”) while construing the entitlement of a detenue under the
Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities
(COFEPOSA) Act, 1974 to have an interview with a lawyer and the members of his
family held that:
“The fundamental right to life which is the most precious human
right and which forms the ark of all other rights must therefore be
interpreted in a broad and expansive spirit so as to invest it with
significance and vitality which may endure for years to come and
enhance the dignity of the individual and the worth of the human
person…160
…the right to life enshrined in Article 21 cannot be restricted to mere
animal existence. It means something much more than just physical
survival.161
…We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human
dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries
of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities
for reading, writing and expressing one-self in diverse forms, freely
moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human
beings…Every act which offends against or impairs human dignity
would constitute deprivation pro tanto of this right to live and it would
have to be in accordance with reasonable, fair and just procedure
157 Ibid, at pages 529-530 (para 1)
158 Ibid, at page 537 (para 21)
159 (1981) 1 SCC 608
160 Ibid, at page 618 (para 6)
161 Ibid, at page 618 (para 7)
PART I
96
established by law which stands the test of other fundamental
rights…162

99 In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India163, a Bench of three judges of this
Court while dealing with individuals who were living in bondage observed that:
“…This right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article
21 derives its life breath from the Directive Principles of
State Policy and particularly Clause (e) and (f) of “Article 39
and Arts. 41 and 42 and at the least, therefore, it must
include protection of the health and strength of the workers,
men and women, and of the tender age of children against
abuse, opportunities and facilities for children to develop in
a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity,
educational facilities, just and humane conditions of work
and maternity relief. These are the minimum requirements
which must exist in order to enable a person to live with
human dignity, and nor State - neither the Central
Government - has the right to take any action which will
deprive a person of the enjoyment of these basic
essentials.”164
100 Dealing with an allegation that activists of an organization were arrested and
paraded throughout the town by the police and were beaten up in police custody, this
Court in Khedat Mazdoor Chetna Sangath v State of M P165 held that:
“It is, therefore, absolutely essential in the interest of justice,
human dignity and democracy that this Court must
intervene; order an investigation determine the correct facts
and take strongest possible action against the respondents
who are responsible for these atrocities…166
162 Ibid, at pages 618-619 (para 8)
163 (1984) 3 SCC 161
164 Ibid, at page 183 (para 10)
165 (1994) 6 SCC 260
166 Ibid, at pages 262-263 (para 10)
PART I
97
If dignity or honor vanishes what remains of life. 167

101 Human dignity was construed in M Nagaraj v Union of India168 by a
Constitution Bench of this Court to be intrinsic to and inseparable from human
existence. Dignity, the Court held, is not something which is conferred and which can
be taken away, because it is inalienable:
“The rights, liberties and freedoms of the individual are not
only to be protected against the State, they should be
facilitated by it… It is the duty of the State not only to
protect the human dignity but to facilitate it by taking
positive steps in that direction. No exact definition of
human dignity exists. It refers to the intrinsic value of
every human being, which is to be respected. It cannot
be taken away. It cannot give. It simply is. Every human
being has dignity by virtue of his existence…169
India is constituted into a sovereign, democratic republic to
secure to all its citizens, fraternity assuring the dignity of the
individual and the unity of the nation. The sovereign,
democratic republic exists to promote fraternity and the
dignity of the individual citizen and to secure to the citizens
certain rights. This is because the objectives of the State
can be realized only in and through the individuals.
Therefore, rights conferred on citizens and non-citizens are
not merely individual or personal rights. They have a large
social and political content, because the objectives of the
Constitution cannot be otherwise realized.170” (emphasis
supplied)
167 Ibid, at pages 271 (para 37)
168 (2006) 8 SCC 212
169 Ibid, at page 243-244 (para 26)
170 Ibid, at pages 247-248 (para 42)
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98
102 In Maharashtra University of Health Sciences v Satchikitsa Prasarak
Mandal171
, this Court held that the dignity of the individual is a core constitutional
concept. In Selvi, this Court recognised that:
“…we must recognize that a forcible intrusion into a person's
mental processes is also an affront to human dignity and
liberty, often with grave and long-lasting
consequences…”172
103 In Dr Mehmood Nayyar Azam v State of Chhattisgarh173, this Court noted
that when dignity is lost, life goes into oblivion. The same emphasis on dignity finds
expression in the decision in NALSA.
104 The same principle was more recently reiterated in Shabnam v Union of
India174 in the following terms:
“This right to human dignity has many elements. First and foremost,
human dignity is the dignity of each human being ‘as a human
being’. Another element, which needs to be highlighted, in the
context of the present case, is that human dignity is infringed if a
person’s life, physical or mental welfare is alarmed. It is in this
sense torture, humiliation, forced labour, etc. all infringe on human
dignity. It is in this context many rights of the accused derive from
his dignity as a human being.”175
171 (2010) 3 SCC 786
172 Ibid, at page 376 (para 244)
173 (2012) 8 SCC 1
174 (2015) 6 SCC 702
175 Ibid, at page 713 (para 14)
PART I
99
105 The recent decision in Jeeja Ghosh v Union of India176 construed the
constitutional protection afforded to human dignity. The Court observed:
“…human dignity is a constitutional value and a constitutional goal.
What are the dimensions of constitutional value of human dignity?
It is beautifully illustrated by Aharon Barak177 (former Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court of Israel) in the following manner:
“The constitutional value of human dignity has a
central normative role. Human dignity as a
constitutional value is the factor that unites the human
rights into one whole. It ensures the normative unity of
human rights. This normative unity is expressed in the
three ways: first, the value of human dignity serves as
a normative basis for constitutional rights set out in the
constitution; second, it serves as an interpretative
principle for determining the scope of constitutional
rights, including the right to human dignity; third, the
value of human dignity has an important role in
determining the proportionality of a statute limiting a
constitutional right.”178
106 Life is precious in itself. But life is worth living because of the freedoms which
enable each individual to live life as it should be lived. The best decisions on how life
should be lived are entrusted to the individual. They are continuously shaped by the
social milieu in which individuals exist. The duty of the state is to safeguard the ability
to take decisions – the autonomy of the individual – and not to dictate those decisions.
‘Life’ within the meaning of Article 21 is not confined to the integrity of the physical
176 (2016) 7 SCC 761
177 Aharon Barak, Human Dignity- The Constitutional Value and the Constitutional Right, Cambridge University
Press (2015)
178 Supra Note 176, at page 792 (para 37)
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body. The right comprehends one’s being in its fullest sense. That which facilitates
the fulfilment of life is as much within the protection of the guarantee of life.
107 To live is to live with dignity. The draftsmen of the Constitution defined their
vision of the society in which constitutional values would be attained by emphasising,
among other freedoms, liberty and dignity. So fundamental is dignity that it permeates
the core of the rights guaranteed to the individual by Part III. Dignity is the core which
unites the fundamental rights because the fundamental rights seek to achieve for each
individual the dignity of existence. Privacy with its attendant values assures dignity to
the individual and it is only when life can be enjoyed with dignity can liberty be of true
substance. Privacy ensures the fulfilment of dignity and is a core value which the
protection of life and liberty is intended to achieve.
Fundamental Rights cases
108 In Golak Nath v State of Punjab179, there was a challenge to the Punjab
Security of Land Tenures Act, 1953 and to the Mysore Land Reforms Act (as
amended) upon their inclusion in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution.
Chief Justice Subba Rao dwelt on the rule of law and its purpose in ensuring that
every authority constituted by the Constitution is subject to it and functions within its
179 (1967) 2 SCR 762
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parameters. One of the purposes of constraining governmental power was to shield
the fundamental freedoms against legislative majorities. This thought is reflected in
the following extract from the judgment of Chief Justice Subba Rao:
“…But, having regard to the past history of our country, it could not
implicitly believe the representatives of the people, for uncontrolled
and unrestricted power might lead to an authoritarian State. It,
therefore, preserves the natural rights against the State
encroachment and constitutes the higher judiciary of the State
as the sentinel of the said rights and the balancing wheel
between the rights, subject to social control. In short, the
fundamental rights, subject to social control, have been
incorporated in the rule of law…”180
(emphasis supplied)
The learned Judge emphasised the position of the fundamental rights thus:
“…They are the rights of the people preserved by our Constitution.
“Fundamental Rights” are the modern name for what have
been traditionally known as “natural rights”. As one author
puts: “they are moral rights which every human being everywhere
all times ought to have simply because of the fact that in
contradistinction with other things is rational and moral”. They are
the primordial rights necessary for the development of human
personality. They are the rights which enable a man to chalk out of
his own life in the manner he likes best…”181
(emphasis supplied)
The fundamental rights, in other words, are primordial rights which have traditionally
been regarded as natural rights. In that character these rights are inseparable from
human existence. They have been preserved by the Constitution, this being a
recognition of their existence even prior to the constitutional document.
180 Ibid, at page 788
181 Ibid, at page 789
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109 In Kesavananda Bharati, a Bench of 13 judges considered the nature of the
amending power conferred by Article 368 and whether the exercise of the amending
power was subject to limitations in its curtailment of the fundamental freedoms. Chief
Justice Sikri held that the fundamental rights are inalienable. In his view, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights had to be utilised to interpret the Constitution having
regard to the mandate of Article 51. India, having acceded to the Universal
Declaration, Sikri, C.J. held that the treatment of rights as inalienable must guide the
interpretation of the Court. The Chief Justice relied upon a line of precedent holding
these rights to be natural and inalienable and observed:
“300. Various decisions of this Court describe fundamental rights
as ‘natural rights’ or ‘human rights’. Some of these decisions are
extracted below:
“There can be no doubt that the people of India have in exercise of
their sovereign will as expressed in the Preamble, adopted the
democratic ideal, which assures to the citizen the dignity of the
individual and other cherished human values as a means to the full
evolution and expression of his personality, and in delegating to the
legislature, the executive and the judiciary their respective powers
in the Constitution, reserved to themselves certain fundamental
rights so-called, I apprehend because they have been retained by
the people and made paramount to the delegated powers, as in the
American Model. (Per Patanjali Sastri, J., in Gopalan v. State of
Madras. [AIR 1950 SC 27: 1950 SCR 88, 198-199 : 1950 SCJ 174]
(Emphasis supplied).
(ii) “That article (Article 19) enumerates certain freedoms under the
caption ‘right to freedom’ and deals with those great and basic
rights which are recognised and guaranteed as the natural
rights inherent in the status of a citizen of a free country. (Per
Patanjali Sastri, C J., in State of West Bengal v. Subodh Gopal
Bose [AIR 1954 SC 92 : 1954 SCR 587, 596 : 1954 SCJ 127] )
(Emphasis supplied).
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“I have no doubt that the framers of our Constitution drew the same
distinction and classed the natural right or capacity of a citizen ‘to
acquire, hold and dispose of property’ with other natural rights and
freedoms inherent in the status of a free citizen and embodied them
in Article 19(1)… (ibid, p. 597)” (Emphasis supplied).
“For all these reasons, I am of opinion that under the scheme of the
Constitution, all those broad and basic freedoms inherent in the
status of a citizen as a free man are embodied and protected from
invasion by the State under clause (1) of Article 19…” (ibid, p. 600)
(Emphasis supplied).
(iii) “The people, however, regard certain rights as paramount,
because they embrace liberty of action to the individual in
matters of private life, social intercourse and share in the
Government of the country and other spheres. The people who
vested the three limbs of Government with their power and
authority, at the same time kept back these rights of citizens and
also some times of non-citizens, and made them inviolable except
under certain conditions. The rights thus kept back are placed in
Part III of the Constitution, which is headed ‘Fundamental Rights’,
and the conditions under which these rights can be abridged are
also indicated in that Part. (Per Hidayatullah,J. in Ujjambai v. State
of U.P. [(1963) 1 SCR 778, 926-27 : AIR 1962 SC 1621]) (Emphasis
supplied).
301. The High Court Allahabad has described them as follows:
“(iv)…man has certain natural or inalienable rights and that it
is the function of the State, in order that human liberty might
be preserved and human personality developed, to give
recognition and free play to those rights…suffice it to say that
they represent a trend in the democratic thought of our age. (Motilal
v. State of U.P.)” (Emphasis supplied).”182
This was the doctrinal basis for holding that the fundamental rights could not be
“amended out of existence”. Elaborating all those features of the Constitution which
formed a part of the basic structure, Sikri, C J held that:
182 Supra note 155, at page 367-368 (para 300)
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“The learned Attorney-General said that every provision of the
Constitution is essential; otherwise it would not have been put in the
Constitution. This is true. But this does not place every provision of
the Constitution in the same position. The true position is that every
provision of the Constitution can be amended provided in the result
the basic foundation and structure of the Constitution remains the
same. The basic structure may be said to consist of the following
features:
(1) Supremacy of the Constitution;
(2) Republican and Democratic form of Government;
(3) Secular character of the Constitution;
(4) Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and
the judiciary;
(5) Federal character of the Constitution.”183
Justices Shelat and Grover held that “[t]he dignity of the individual secured by the
various freedoms and basic rights in Part III and the mandate to build a welfare State
contained in Part IV”184 constituted a part of the basic structure.
Justices Hegde and Mukherjea emphasised that the primary object before the
Constituent Assembly were: (i) to constitute India into a sovereign, democratic
republic and (ii) to secure its citizens the rights mentioned in it. Hence, the learned
Judges found it impossible to accept that the Constitution makers would have made
a provision in the Constitution itself for the destruction of the very ideals which they
had embodied in the fundamental rights. Hence, Parliament had no power to abrogate
the fundamental features of the Constitution including among them “the essential
features of the individual freedoms secured to the citizens”.
“On a careful consideration of the various aspects of the case, we
are convinced that the Parliament has no power to abrogate or
183 Ibid, at page 366 (para 292)
184 Ibid, at page 454 (para 582)
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emasculate the basic elements or fundamental features of the
Constitution such as the sovereignty of India, the democratic
character of our polity, the unity of the country, the essential
features of the individual freedoms secured to the citizens. Nor
has the Parliament the power to revoke the mandate to build a
welfare State and egalitarian society. These limitations are only
illustrative and not exhaustive. Despite these limitations, however,
there can be no question that the amending power is a wide power
and it reaches every Article and every part of the Constitution. That
power can be used to reshape the Constitution to fulfil the obligation
imposed on the State. It can also be used to reshape the
Constitution within the limits mentioned earlier, to make it an
effective instrument for social good. We are unable to agree with
the contention that in order to build a welfare State, it is
necessary to destroy some of the human freedoms. That, at
any rate is not the perspective of our Constitution. Our
Constitution envisages that the State should without delay
make available to all the citizens of this country the real
benefits of those freedoms in a democratic way. Human
freedoms are lost gradually and imperceptibly and their destruction
is generally followed by authoritarian rule. That is what history has
taught us. Struggle between liberty and power is eternal. Vigilance
is the price that we like every other democratic society have to pay
to safeguard the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution.
Even the best of Governments are not averse to have more and
more power to carry out their plans and programmes which they
may sincerely believe to be in public interest. But a freedom once
lost is hardly ever regained except by revolution. Every
encroachment on freedom sets a pattern for further encroachments.
Our constitutional plan is to eradicate poverty without
destruction of individual freedoms.”185
(emphasis supplied)
Justice Jaganmohan Reddy held that:
“…Parliament cannot under Article 368 expand its power of
amendment so as to confer on itself the power to repeal, abrogate
the Constitution or damage, emasculate or destroy any of the
fundamental rights or essential elements of the basic structure of
the Constitution or of destroying the identity of the Constitution…”186
185 Ibid, at pages 486-487 (para 666)
186 Ibid, at page 666 (para 1212)
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Justice Khanna in the course of the summation of his conclusions held, as regards
the power of amendment, that:
“The power of amendment under Article 368 does not include the
power to abrogate the Constitution nor does it include the power to
alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. Subject to
the retention of the basic structure or framework of the Constitution,
the power of amendment is plenary and includes within itself the
power to amend the various articles of the Constitution, including
those relating to fundamental rights as well as those which may be
said to relate to essential features. No part of a fundamental right
can claim immunity from amendatory process by being described
as the essence, or core of that right. The power of amendment
would also include within itself the power to add, alter or repeal the
various articles.”187
Significantly, even though Justice Mathew was in the minority, the learned Judge in
the course of his decision observed the importance of human dignity:
“The social nature of man, the generic traits of his physical and
mental constitution, his sentiments of justice and the morals within,
his instinct for individual and collective preservations, his desire for
happiness, his sense of human dignity, his consciousness of man’s
station and purpose in life, all these are not products of fancy but
objective factors in the realm of existence…”188
110 In Indira Nehru Gandhi v Raj Narain189, Justice Khanna clarified that his view
in Kesavananda Bharati is that Parliament in the exercise of its power to amend the
Constitution cannot destroy or abrogate the basic structure of the Constitution. No
distinction was made in regard to the scope of the amending power relating to the
187 Ibid, at page 824 (para 1537(vii))
188 Ibid, at pages 866-867 (para 1676)
189 (1975) 1 Suppl. SCC 1
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provisions of the fundamental rights and in respect of matters other than the
fundamental rights:
“…The limitation inherent in the word “amendment” according to
which it is not permissible by amendment of the Constitution to
change the basic structure of the Constitution was to operate
equally on articles pertaining to fundamental rights as on other
articles not pertaining to those rights…”190
Justice Khanna noted that the right to property was held by him not to be a part of the
basic structure. Justice Khanna observed that it would have been unnecessary for
him to hold so, if none of the fundamental rights were to be a part of the basic structure
of the Constitution.
111 Chandrachud C J, in the course of his judgment for the Constitution Bench in
Minerva Mills Ltd v Union of India191
, traced the history of the evolution of inalienable
rights, founded in inviolable liberties, during the course of the freedom movement and
observed that both Parts III and IV of the Constitution had emerged as inseparably
inter-twined, without a distinction between the negative and positive obligations of the
state.
The Constitution, in this view, is founded on “the bedrock of the balance between
Parts III and IV” and to give absolute primacy to one over the other would be to disturb
the harmony of the Constitution. In the view of the Chief Justice:
190 Ibid, at page 115 (para 251)
191 (1980) 3 SCC 625
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“The edifice of our Constitution is built upon the concepts
crystallised in the Preamble. We resolved to constitute ourselves
into a Socialist State which carried with it the obligation to secure to
our people justice – social, economic and political. We, therefore,
put Part IV into our Constitution containing directive principles of
State policy which specify the socialistic goal to be achieved. We
promised to our people a democratic polity which carries with it the
obligation of securing to the people liberty of thought, expression,
belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity and
the assurance that the dignity of the individual will at all costs be
preserved. We, therefore, put Part III in our Constitution conferring
those rights on the people…”192
Articles 14 and 19, the Court held, confer rights essential for the proper functioning of
a democracy and are universally so regarded by the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. Withdrawing the protection of Articles 14 and 19 was plainly impermissible
and the immunity granted by the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution to a law against
the challenge that it violates Articles 14 or 19 (if the law is for giving effect to the
Directive Principles) amounted to a violation of the basic structure.
No waiver of Fundamental Rights
112 In Behram Khurshed Pesikaka v The State of Bombay193, Chief Justice
Mahajan, speaking for the Constitution Bench, noted the link between the
constitutional vision contained in the Preamble and the position of the fundamental
rights as a means to facilitate its fulfilment. Though Part III embodies fundamental
rights, this was construed to be part of the wider notion of securing the vision of justice
192 Ibid, at page 654 (para 57)
193 (1955) 1 SCR 613
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of the founding fathers and, as a matter of doctrine, the rights guaranteed were held
not to be capable of being waived. Mahajan, CJ, observed:
“We think that the rights described as fundamental rights are a
necessary consequence of the declaration in the Preamble that the
people of India have solemnly resolved to constitute India into a
sovereign democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens
justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression,
belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity.
These fundamental rights have not been put in the Constitution
merely for individual benefit, though ultimately they come into
operation in considering individual rights. They have been put there
as a matter of public policy and the doctrine of waiver can have no
application to provisions of law which have been enacted as a
matter of constitutional policy.”194
Privacy as intrinsic to freedom and liberty
113 The submission that recognising the right to privacy is an exercise which would
require a constitutional amendment and cannot be a matter of judicial interpretation is
not an acceptable doctrinal position. The argument assumes that the right to privacy
is independent of the liberties guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. There lies
the error. The right to privacy is an element of human dignity. The sanctity of privacy
lies in its functional relationship with dignity. Privacy ensures that a human being can
lead a life of dignity by securing the inner recesses of the human personality from
unwanted intrusion. Privacy recognises the autonomy of the individual and the right
of every person to make essential choices which affect the course of life. In doing so
privacy recognises that living a life of dignity is essential for a human being to fulfil the
194 Ibid, at pages 653-654
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liberties and freedoms which are the cornerstone of the Constitution. To recognise the
value of privacy as a constitutional entitlement and interest is not to fashion a new
fundamental right by a process of amendment through judicial fiat. Neither are the
judges nor is the process of judicial review entrusted with the constitutional
responsibility to amend the Constitution. But judicial review certainly has the task
before it of determining the nature and extent of the freedoms available to each person
under the fabric of those constitutional guarantees which are protected. Courts have
traditionally discharged that function and in the context of Article 21 itself, as we have
already noted, a panoply of protections governing different facets of a dignified
existence has been held to fall within the protection of Article 21.
114 In Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation195, Chandrachud C J, while
explaining the ambit of Article 21 found a rationale for protecting the right to livelihood
as an incident of the right to life. For, as the Court held, deprivation of livelihood would
result in the abrogation of the right to life:
“148. The sweep of the right to life conferred by Article 21 is wide
and far-reaching. It does not mean merely that life cannot be
extinguished or taken away as, for example, by the imposition and
execution of the death sentence, except according to procedure
established by law. That is but one aspect of the right to life. An
equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because,
no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of
livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the
constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of
his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to
the point of abrogation. Such deprivation would not only denude the
195 (1985) 3 SCC 545
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life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make
life impossible to live. And yet, such deprivation would not have to
be in accordance with the procedure established by law, if the right
to livelihood is not regarded as a part of the right to life. That, which
alone makes it possible to live, leave aside what makes life liveable,
must be deemed to be an integral component of the right to life.
Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have
deprived him of his life…”196
115 In Unnikrishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh197, Justice Jeevan Reddy,
speaking for this Court, held that though the right to education (as the Constitution
then stood) was not “stated expressly as a fundamental right” in Part III, that would
not militate against its being protected under the rubric of life under Article 21. These
decisions have been ultimately guided by the object of a Constitutional Court which
must be to expand the boundaries of fundamental human freedoms rather than to
attenuate their content through a constricted judicial interpretation In Maneka, it has
been stated that:
“The attempt of the court should be to expand the reach and ambit
of the fundamental rights rather than attenuate their meaning and
content by process of judicial construction…
“personal liberty” in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude.”198
116 Now, would this Court in interpreting the Constitution freeze the content of
constitutional guarantees and provisions to what the founding fathers perceived? The
Constitution was drafted and adopted in a historical context. The vision of the
founding fathers was enriched by the histories of suffering of those who suffered
196 Ibid, at page 572 (para 32)
197 (1993) 1 SCC 645
198 Maneka (Supra note 5), at page 280 (para 5)
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oppression and a violation of dignity both here and elsewhere. Yet, it would be difficult
to dispute that many of the problems which contemporary societies face would not
have been present to the minds of the most perspicacious draftsmen. No generation,
including the present, can have a monopoly over solutions or the confidence in its
ability to foresee the future. As society evolves, so must constitutional doctrine. The
institutions which the Constitution has created must adapt flexibly to meet the
challenges in a rapidly growing knowledge economy. Above all, constitutional
interpretation is but a process in achieving justice, liberty and dignity to every citizen.
117 Undoubtedly, there have been aberrations. In the evolution of the doctrine in
India, which places the dignity of the individual and freedoms and liberties at the
forefront, there have been a few discordant notes. Two of them need attention.
Discordant Notes
(i) ADM Jabalpur
118 In ADM Jabalpur v Shivakant Shukla199 (“ADM Jabalpur”), the issue before
this Court was whether an order issued by the President under Article 359(1) of the
Constitution suspends the right of every person to move any Court for the enforcement
of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 upon being detained under a law
providing for preventive detention. The submission of the detenues in this Court was
199 (1976) 2 SCC 521
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that the suspension of the remedy to enforce Article 21 does not automatically entail
suspension of the right or the rule of law and that even during an emergency the rule
of law could not be suspended. A majority of four judges of this Court (Justice H R
Khanna dissenting) held that:
“Liberty is confined and controlled by law, whether common law or
statute. It is in the words of Burke a regulated freedom. It is not an
abstract or absolute freedom. The safeguard of liberty is in the good
sense of the people and in the system of representative and
responsible government which has been evolved. If extraordinary
powers are given, they are given because the emergency is
extraordinary, and are limited to the period of the emergency.”200
Dealing with the issue as to whether Article 21 is the sole repository of the right to life,
Ray C J, observed that where any right which existed before the commencement of
the Constitution has been incorporated in Part III, the common law right would not
exist under the Constitution. In a concurring judgment Justice Beg held that while
adopting the Constitution, there was a notional surrender by the people of India of the
control over these rights to a sovereign republic and it is only the Constitution which
is supreme and which can confer rights and powers. There was, in this view, a notional
surrender of individual freedom. Justice Beg held that:
“The whole object of guaranteed fundamental rights is to make
those basic aspects of human freedom, embodied in fundamental
rights, more secure than others not so selected. In thus recognising
and declaring certain basic aspects of rights as fundamental by the
Constitution of the country, the purpose was to protect them against
undue encroachments upon them by the legislative, or executive,
and, sometimes even judicial (e.g. Article 20) organs of the State.
The encroachment must remain within permissible limits and must
200 Ibid, at page 571 (para 33)
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take place only in prescribed modes. The intention could never
be to preserve something concurrently in the field of natural
law or common law. It was to exclude all other control or to
make the Constitution the sole repository of ultimate control
over those aspects of human freedom which were guaranteed
there.”201
(emphasis supplied)
A similar position was adopted by Justice Chandrachud:
“The right to personal liberty has no hallmark and therefore
when the right is put in action it is impossible to identify
whether the right is one given by the Constitution or is one
which existed in the pre-Constitution era. If the argument of the
respondents is correct, no action to enforce the right to personal
liberty can at all fall within the mischief of the Presidential Order
even if it mentions Articles 19, 20, 21 and 22 because, every
preliminary objection by the Government to a petition to enforce the
right to personal liberty can be effectively answered by contending
that what is being enforced is either the natural right to personal
liberty or generally, the pre-Constitution right to personal liberty.
The error of the respondents argument lies in its assumption,
and in regard to the argument of some of the counsel in its
major articulate premise, that the qualitative content of the
non-constitutional or pre-constitutional right to personal
liberty is different from the content of the right to personal
liberty conferred by Part III of the Constitution…”202
(emphasis supplied)
In his view:
“It therefore does not make any difference whether any right to
personal liberty was in existence prior to the enactment of the
Constitution, either by way of a natural right, statutory right,
common law right or a right available under the law of torts.
Whatever may be the source of the right and whatever may be its
jurisdiction, the right in essence and substance is the right to
personal liberty. That right having been included in Part III, its
201 Ibid, at page 604 (para 183)
202 Ibid, at page 664 (para 379)
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enforcement will stand suspended if it is mentioned in the
Presidential Order issued under Article 359(1).”203
Justice Bhagwati held as follows:
“Now, to my mind, it is clear that when this principle of rule of law
that the Executive cannot deprive a person of his liberty except by
authority of law, is recognised and embodied as a fundamental right
and enacted as such in Article 21, it is difficult to comprehend how
it could continue to have a distinct and separate existence,
independently and apart from this article in which it has been given
constitutional vesture. I fail to see how it could continue in force
under Article 372 when it is expressly recognised and embodied as
a fundamental right in Article 21 and finds a place in the express
provisions of the Constitution. Once this principle is recognised
and incorporated in the Constitution and forms part of it, it
could not have any separate existence apart from the
Constitution, unless it were also enacted as a statutory
principle by some positive law of the State…”204 (emphasis
supplied)
In his view, it is the Constitution which is supreme and if it ordains that a person who
is detained otherwise than in accordance with law would not be entitled to enforce the
right of personal liberty, the Court was duty bound to give effect to it:
“…it cannot be overlooked that, in the ultimate analysis, the
protection of personal liberty and the supremacy of law which
sustains it must be governed by the Constitution itself. The
Constitution is the paramount and supreme law of the land and if it
says that even if a person is detained otherwise than in accordance
with the law. he shall not be entitled to enforce his right of personal
liberty, whilst a Presidential Order under Article 359, clause (1)
specifying Article 21 is in force, I have to give effect to it. Sitting as
I do, as a Judge under the Constitution, I cannot ignore the plain
and emphatic command of the Constitution for what I may consider
to be necessary to meet the ends of justice. It is said that law has
203 Ibid, at page 666 (para 383)
204 Ibid, at page 701 (para 459)
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the feminine capacity to tempt each devotee to find his own image
in her bosom. No one escapes entirely. Some yield blindly, some
with sophistication. Only a few more or less effectively resist. I have
always leaned in favour of upholding personal liberty, for, I believe,
it is one of the most cherished values of mankind. Without it life
would not be worth living. It is one of the pillars of free democratic
society. Men have readily laid down their lives at its altar, in order
to secure it, protect it and preserve it. But I do not think it would be
right for me to allow my love of personal liberty to cloud my vision
or to persuade me to place on the relevant provision of the
Constitution a construction which its language cannot reasonably
bear. I cannot assume to myself the role of Plato's “Philosopher
King” in order to render what I consider ideal justice between the
citizen and the State. After all, the Constitution is the law of all laws
and there alone judicial conscience must find its ultimate support
and its final resting place. It is in this spirit of humility and obedience
to the Constitution and driven by judicial compulsion, that I have
come to the conclusion that the Presidential Order dated June 27,
1975 bars maintainability of a writ petition for habeas corpus where
an order of detention is challenged on the ground that it is mala fide
or not under the Act or not in compliance with it.”205
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Khanna emphatically held that the suspension of the
right to move any Court for the enforcement of the right under Article 21, upon a
proclamation of emergency, would not affect the enforcement of the basic right to life
and liberty. The Constitution was not the sole repository of the right to life and liberty:
“I am of the opinion that Article 21 cannot be considered to be the
sole repository of the right to life and personal liberty. The right to
life and personal liberty is the most precious right of human beings
in civilised societies governed by the rule of law. Many modern
Constitutions incorporate certain fundamental rights, including the
one relating to personal freedom. According to Blackstone, the
absolute rights of Englishmen were the rights of personal security,
personal liberty and private property. The American Declaration of
Independence (1776) states that all men are created equal, and
205 Ibid, at pages 723-724 (para 487)
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among their inalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness…”206
Even in the absence of Article 21, it would not have been permissible for the State to
deprive a person of his life and liberty without the authority of the law:
“Even in the absence of Article 21 in the Constitution, the State has
got no power to deprive a person of his life or liberty without the
authority of law. This is the essential postulate and basic
assumption of the rule of law and not of men in all civilised nations.
Without such sanctity of life and liberty, the distinction between a
lawless society and one governed by laws would cease to have any
meaning. The principle that no one shall be deprived of his life or
liberty without the authority of law is rooted in the consideration that
life and liberty are priceless possessions which cannot be made the
plaything of individual whim and caprice and that any act which has
the effect of tampering with life and liberty must receive sustenance
from and sanction of the laws of the land. Article 21 incorporates an
essential aspect of that principle and makes it part of the
fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution. It does
not, however, follow from the above that if Article 21 had not been
drafted and inserted in Part III, in that event it would have been
permissible for the State to deprive a person of his life or liberty
without the authority of law. No case has been cited before us to
show that before the coming into force of the Constitution or in
countries under rule of law where there is no provision
corresponding to Article 21, a claim was ever sustained by the
courts that the State can deprive a person of his life or liberty without
the authority of law…”207
The remedy for the enforcement of the right to life or liberty would not stand
suspended even if the right to enforce Article 21 is suspended:
“Recognition as fundamental right of one aspect of the preconstitutional
right cannot have the effect of making things less
favourable so far as the sanctity of life and personal liberty is
206 Ibid, at page 747 (para 525)
207 Ibid, at pages 749-750 (para 530)
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concerned compared to the position if an aspect of such right had
not been recognised as fundamental right because of the
vulnerability of fundamental rights accruing from Article 359…”208
Justice Khanna held that while wide powers to order preventive detention are vested
in the State, there is no antithesis between the power to detain and power of the Court
to examine the legality of such a detention:
“The impact upon the individual of the massive and comprehensive
powers of preventive detention with which the administrative
officers are armed has to be cushioned with legal safeguards
against arbitrary deprivation of personal liberty if the premises of
the rule of law is not to lose its content and become
meaningless…”209
119 The judgments rendered by all the four judges constituting the majority in ADM
Jabalpur are seriously flawed. Life and personal liberty are inalienable to human
existence. These rights are, as recognised in Kesavananda Bharati, primordial
rights. They constitute rights under natural law. The human element in the life of the
individual is integrally founded on the sanctity of life. Dignity is associated with liberty
and freedom. No civilized state can contemplate an encroachment upon life and
personal liberty without the authority of law. Neither life nor liberty are bounties
conferred by the state nor does the Constitution create these rights. The right to life
has existed even before the advent of the Constitution. In recognising the right, the
Constitution does not become the sole repository of the right. It would be
preposterous to suggest that a democratic Constitution without a Bill of Rights would
leave individuals governed by the state without either the existence of the right to live
208 Ibid, at page 751 (para 531)
209 Ibid, page 767 (para 574)
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or the means of enforcement of the right. The right to life being inalienable to each
individual, it existed prior to the Constitution and continued in force under Article 372
of the Constitution. Justice Khanna was clearly right in holding that the recognition of
the right to life and personal liberty under the Constitution does not denude the
existence of that right, apart from it nor can there be a fatuous assumption that in
adopting the Constitution the people of India surrendered the most precious aspect of
the human persona, namely, life, liberty and freedom to the state on whose mercy
these rights would depend. Such a construct is contrary to the basic foundation of the
rule of law which imposes restraints upon the powers vested in the modern state when
it deals with the liberties of the individual. The power of the Court to issue a Writ of
Habeas Corpus is a precious and undeniable feature of the rule of law.
120 A constitutional democracy can survive when citizens have an undiluted
assurance that the rule of law will protect their rights and liberties against any invasion
by the state and that judicial remedies would be available to ask searching questions
and expect answers when a citizen has been deprived of these, most precious rights.
The view taken by Justice Khanna must be accepted, and accepted in reverence for
the strength of its thoughts and the courage of its convictions.
121 When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions
at the forefront of liberty. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective
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of what was, but should never have been. The decision of the US Supreme Court in
Buck v Bell210 ranks amongst the latter. It was a decision in which Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes Jr. accepted the forcible sterilization by tubular ligation of Carrie
Bucks as part of a programme of state sponsored eugenic sterilization. Justice
Holmes, while upholding the programme opined that: “three generations of imbeciles
is enough”211. In the same vein was the decision of the US Supreme Court in
Korematsu v United States212, upholding the imprisonment of a citizen in a
concentration camp solely because of his Japanese ancestry.
ADM Jabalpur must be and is accordingly overruled. We also overrule the decision
in Union of India v Bhanudas Krishna Gawde213, which followed ADM Jabalpur.
122 In I R Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu214, this Court took the view that ADM
Jabalpur has been impliedly overruled by various subsequent decisions:
“During Emergency, the fundamental rights were read even more
restrictively as interpreted by the majority in ADM, Jabalpur v.
Shivakant Shukla [(1976) 2 SCC 521]. The decision in ADM,
Jabalpur [(1976) 2 SCC 521] about the restrictive reading of right to
life and liberty stood impliedly overruled by various subsequent
decisions.”215
210 274 US 200 (1927)
211 A moving account of the times and the position is to be found in Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate
History, Penguin Books Ltd. (2016), pages 78-85.
212 323 US 214 (1944)
213 (1977) 1 SCC 834
214 (2007) 2 SCC 1
215 Ibid, at page 76 (para 29)
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We now expressly do so.
123 As a result of the Forty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, Article 359 has
been amended to provide that during the operation of a proclamation of emergency,
the power of the President to declare a suspension of the right to move a Court for
the enforcement of the fundamental rights contained in Part III shall not extend to
Articles 20 and 21.
(ii) Suresh Koushal
124 Another discordant note which directly bears upon the evolution of the
constitutional jurisprudence on the right to privacy finds reflection in a two judge Bench
decision of this Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal v NAZ foundation216 (“Koushal”).
The proceedings before this Court arose from a judgment217 of the Delhi High Court
holding that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, insofar as it criminalises
consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the
Constitution. The Delhi High Court, however, clarified that Section 377 will continue
to govern non-consensual penile, non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex
involving minors. Among the grounds of challenge was that the statutory provision
constituted an infringement of the rights to dignity and privacy. The Delhi High Court
held that:
“…The sphere of privacy allows persons to develop human
relations without interference from the outside community or from
216 (2014) 1 SCC 1
217 Naz Foundation v Government of NCT, 2010 Cri LJ 94
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the State. The exercise of autonomy enables an individual to attain
fulfilment, grow in self-esteem, build relationships of his or her
choice and fulfil all legitimate goals that he or she may set. In the
Indian Constitution, the right to live with dignity and the right of
privacy both are recognised as dimensions of Article 21…”
218
Section 377 was held to be a denial of the dignity of an individual and to criminalise
his or her core identity solely on account of sexuality would violate Article 21. The
High Court adverted at length to global trends in the protection of privacy – dignity
rights of homosexuals, including decisions emanating from the US Supreme Court,
the South African Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. The
view of the High Court was that a statutory provision targeting homosexuals as a class
violates Article 14, and amounted to a hostile discrimination on the grounds of sexual
orientation (outlawed by Article 15). The High Court, however, read down Section 377
in the manner which has been adverted to above.
125 When the matter travelled to this Court, Justice Singhvi, speaking for the Bench
dealt with several grounds including the one based on privacy – dignity. The Court
recognised that the right to privacy which is recognised by Article 12 of the Universal
Declaration and Article 17 of ICCPR has been read into Article 21 “through expansive
reading of the right to life and liberty”. This Court, however, found fault with the basis
of the judgment of the High Court for the following, among other reasons:
“…the Division Bench of the High Court overlooked that a
miniscule fraction of the country's population constitutes
218 Ibid, at page 110 (para 48)
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lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and in last more
than 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted
(as per the reported orders) for committing offence under Section
377 IPC and this cannot be made sound basis for declaring that
section ultra vires the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the
Constitution.”219 (emphasis supplied)
The privacy and dignity based challenge was repelled with the following observations:
“In its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons
and to declare that Section 377 IPC violates the right to
privacy, autonomy and dignity, the High Court has extensively
relied upon the judgments of other jurisdictions. Though these
judgments shed considerable light on various aspects of this right
and are informative in relation to the plight of sexual minorities, we
feel that they cannot be applied blindfolded for deciding the
constitutionality of the law enacted by the Indian Legislature.”220
(emphasis supplied)
126 Neither of the above reasons can be regarded as a valid constitutional basis
for disregarding a claim based on privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. That
“a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals
or transgenders” (as observed in the judgment of this Court) is not a sustainable basis
to deny the right to privacy. The purpose of elevating certain rights to the stature of
guaranteed fundamental rights is to insulate their exercise from the disdain of
majorities, whether legislative or popular. The guarantee of constitutional rights does
not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion.
The test of popular acceptance does not furnish a valid basis to disregard rights which
are conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection. Discrete and insular
219 Koushal (Supra note 216), at page 69-70 (para 66)
220 Ibid, at page 78 (para 77)
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minorities face grave dangers of discrimination for the simple reason that their views,
beliefs or way of life does not accord with the ‘mainstream’. Yet in a democratic
Constitution founded on the rule of law, their rights are as sacred as those conferred
on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties. Sexual orientation is an
essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of
sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual.
Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be
protected on an even platform. The right to privacy and the protection of sexual
orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and
21 of the Constitution.
127 The view in Koushal that the High Court had erroneously relied upon
international precedents “in its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT.
persons” is similarly, in our view, unsustainable. The rights of the lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender population cannot be construed to be “so-called rights”. The
expression “so-called” seems to suggest the exercise of a liberty in the garb of a right
which is illusory. This is an inappropriate construction of the privacy based claims of
the LGBT population. Their rights are not “so-called” but are real rights founded on
sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and
dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an
essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity
of every individual without discrimination.
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128 The decision in Koushal presents a de minimis rationale when it asserts that
there have been only two hundred prosecutions for violating Section 377. The de
minimis hypothesis is misplaced because the invasion of a fundamental right is not
rendered tolerable when a few, as opposed to a large number of persons, are
subjected to hostile treatment. The reason why such acts of hostile discrimination are
constitutionally impermissible is because of the chilling effect which they have on the
exercise of the fundamental right in the first place. For instance, pre-publication
restraints such as censorship are vulnerable because they discourage people from
exercising their right to free speech because of the fear of a restraint coming into
operation. The chilling effect on the exercise of the right poses a grave danger to the
unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity.
The chilling effect is due to the danger of a human being subjected to social
opprobrium or disapproval, as reflected in the punishment of crime. Hence the
Koushal rationale that prosecution of a few is not an index of violation is flawed and
cannot be accepted. Consequently, we disagree with the manner in which Koushal
has dealt with the privacy – dignity based claims of LGBT persons on this aspect.
Since the challenge to Section 377 is pending consideration before a larger Bench of
this Court, we would leave the constitutional validity to be decided in an appropriate
proceeding.
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J India’s commitments under International law
129 The recognition of privacy as a fundamental constitutional value is part of
India’s commitment to a global human rights regime. Article 51 of the Constitution,
which forms part of the Directive Principles, requires the State to endeavour to “foster
respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised
peoples with one another”221. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
recognises the right to privacy:
“Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with
his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon
his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection
of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted on 16
December 1979 and came into effect on 23 March 1976. India ratified it on 11
December 1977. Article 17 of the ICCPR provides thus:
“The obligations imposed by this article require the State to adopt
legislative and other measures to give effect to the prohibition
against such interferences and attacks as well as to the protection
of the right.”
The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 which has been enacted by Parliament
refers to the ICCPR as a human rights instrument. Section 2(1)(d) defines human
rights:
221 Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution
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“human rights” means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and
dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied
in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.”
Section 2(1)(f) defines International Covenants:
“International Covenants” means the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural rights adopted by the General
Assembly of the United Nations on the 16th December, 1966 [and
such other Covenant or Convention adopted by the General
Assembly of the United Nations as the Central Government may,
by notification, specify”
Under Section 12(f) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the National Human
Rights Commission:
“is entrusted with the function of studying treaties and other
international instruments on human rights and make
recommendations for their effective implementation.”
130 The ICCPR casts an obligation on states to respect, protect and fulfil its norms.
The duty of a State to respect mandates that it must not violate the right. The duty to
protect mandates that the government must protect it against interference by private
parties. The duty to fulfil postulates that government must take steps towards
realisation of a right. While elaborating the rights under Article 17, general comment
16 specifically stipulates that:
“…..there is universal recognition of the fundamental importance,
and enduring relevance, of the right to privacy and of the need to
ensure that it is safeguarded, in law and practice.”
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Significantly, while acceding to the ICCPR, India did not file any reservation or
declaration to Article 17. While India filed reservations against Articles 1, 9 and 13,
there was none to Article 17:
“Article 1 refers to the right to self-determination. The reservation to
Article 1 states that “the Government of the Republic of India
declares that the words ‘the right of self-determination’ appearing in
[this article] apply only to the peoples under foreign domination and
that these words do not apply to sovereign independent States or
to a section of a people or nation-which is the essence of national
integrity. ‘ The reservation to Article 9, which refers to the right to
liberty and security of person, detention and compensation payable
on wrongful arrest or detention, states that “the government of the
Republic of India takes the position that the provisions of the article
shall be so applied as to be in consonance with the provisions of
clauses (3) to (7) of article 22 of the Constitution of India. Further
under the Indian Legal System, there is no enforceable right to
compensation for persons claiming to be victims of unlawful arrest
or detention against the State.” The reservation to Article 13 – which
refers to protections for aliens, states that “the Government of the
Republic of India reserves its right to apply its law relating to
foreigners.”
On 30 June 2014, a report was presented by the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights.222 The report underscores that:
“…there is universal recognition of the fundamental importance,
and enduring relevance, of the right to privacy and of the need to
ensure that it is safeguarded, in law and in practice.”223
222
“The Right to privacy in the Digital age”, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights (30 June 2014)
223
Ibid, at page 5 (para 13)
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131 In Bachan Singh v State of Punjab224 (“Bachan Singh”), this Court
considered in relation to the death penalty, the obligations assumed by India in
international law, following the ratification of the ICCPR. The Court held that the
requirements of Article 6 of the ICCPR are substantially similar to the guarantees
contained in Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution. The penal law of India was held to
be in accord with its international commitments. In Francis Coralie, this Court, while
explaining the ambit of Article 21, held that:
“…there is implicit in Article 21 the right to protection against torture
or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is enunciated in
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
guaranteed by Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights…”225
132 In Vishaka v State of Rajasthan226, this Court observed that in the absence of
domestic law, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW) is applicable. In NALSA, while dealing with the rights of transgenders, this
Court found that the international conventions were not inconsistent with the
fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and must be recognised and
followed.
133 The position in law is well settled. Where there is a contradiction between
international law and a domestic statute, the Court would give effect to the latter. In
224
(1980) 2 SCC 684
225 Francis Coralie (Supra note 159), at page 619 (para 8)
226 (1997) 6 SCC 241
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the present case, there is no contradiction between the international obligations which
have been assumed by India and the Constitution. The Court will not readily presume
any inconsistency. On the contrary, constitutional provisions must be read and
interpreted in a manner which would enhance their conformity with the global human
rights regime. India is a responsible member of the international community and the
Court must adopt an interpretation which abides by the international commitments
made by the country particularly where its constitutional and statutory mandates
indicate no deviation. In fact, the enactment of the Human Rights Act by Parliament
would indicate a legislative desire to implement the human rights regime founded on
constitutional values and international conventions acceded to by India.
K Comparative Law
134 This section analyses the evolution of the concept of privacy in other
jurisdictions from a comparative law perspective. The Court is conscious of the limits
of a comparative approach. Each country is governed by its own constitutional and
legal structure. Constitutional structures have an abiding connection with the history,
culture, political doctrine and values which a society considers as its founding
principles. Foreign judgments must hence be read with circumspection ensuring that
the text is not read isolated from its context. The countries which have been dealt with
are:
(i) United Kingdom;
(ii) United States;
(iii) South Africa; and
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(iv) Canada.
The narrative will then proceed to examine the decisions of the European Court of
Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights. These decisions are indicative of the manner in which the
right to privacy has been construed in diverse jurisdictions based on the histories of
the societies they govern and the challenges before them.
(i) U K decisions
The first common law case regarding protection of privacy is said to be Semayne’s
Case227 (1604). The case related to the entry into a property by the Sheriff of London
in order to execute a valid writ. The case is famous for the words of Sir Edward Coke:
“That the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as
well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose …”
Then, in the case of Entick v Carrington228 (1765), Entick’s house had been forcibly
entered into by agents of the State/King. Lord Camden CJ held that:
“By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it
ever so minute, is a trespass. No man can set his foot upon my
ground without my licence, but he is liable to an action, though the
damage be nothing; which is proved by every declaration in
trespass, where the defendant is called upon to answer for bruising
the grass and even treading upon the soil.”
227 Peter Semayne v Richard Gresham, 77 ER 194
228 (1765) 19 St. Tr. 1029
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Privacy jurisprudence developed further in the 19th century. In 1849, in Prince Albert
v Strange229 (1849), publication was sought to be restrained of otherwise unpublished
private etchings and lists of works done by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. In the
High Court of Chancery, Lord Cottenham observed that:
“… where privacy is the right invaded, postponing the injunction
would be equivalent to denying it altogether. The interposition of
this Court in these cases does not depend upon any legal right, and
to be effectual, it must be immediate.”
However, the approach adopted by the Court in Prince Albert case took a different
turn in the case of Kaye v Robertson230 (1991). In this case, when the appellant, after
an accident, was recovering from brain surgery in a private hospital room, two
journalists posed as doctors and took photographs of him. The appellant attempted to
obtain an order to restrain publication of the photographs. The Court of Appeal held
that:
“… in English law there is no right to privacy, and accordingly there
is no right of action for breach of a person's privacy”
The decision in R v Director of Serious Fraud Office, ex parte Smith231 (1993)
discussed the question of the right to silence. The applicant (the chairman and
managing director of a company) was charged of doing acts with the intent to defraud
its creditors. After having been cautioned, he was asked to answer questions of the
Director of the Serious Fraud Office. The issue was whether the requirement to
229 (1849) 41 ER 1171
230 [1991] FSR 62
231 [1993] AC 1
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answer questions infringed the right to silence. It was held that the powers of the
Director of the Serious Fraud Office, under the Criminal Justice Act 1987, entitled
him/her to compel the applicant to answer questions on pain of commission of a
criminal offence. Lord Mustill, who delivered the leading opinion of the Court, held
that:
“[It] is a simple reflection of the common view that one person
should so far as possible be entitled to tell another person to mind
his own business. All civilised states recognise this assertion of
personal liberty and privacy. Equally, although there may be
pronounced disagreements between states, and between individual
citizens within states, about where the line should be drawn, few
would dispute that some curtailment of the liberty is indispensable
to the stability of society; and indeed in the United Kingdom today
our lives are permeated by enforceable duties to provide
information on demand, created by Parliament and tolerated by the
majority, albeit in some cases with reluctance.”
Lord Mustill’s statement “underlines the approach taken by the common law to
privacy” that “it recognised privacy as a principle of general value” and that “privacy
had only been given discrete and specific protection at common law”.232
This approach was diluted in the case of Wainwright v Home Office233(2004), where
a mother and son were subjected to a strip-search when visiting a prison in 1997, in
accordance with existing Prison Rules. The son, who was mentally impaired and
suffered from cerebral palsy, later developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Claims
for damages arising from trespass and trespass to the person were issued. At the time
232
Lord Neuberger, “Privacy in the 21st Century”, UK Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists' Lecture (28
November 2012)
233 [2004] 2 AC 406
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of the incident, the Human Rights Act, 1998 (HRA) had not yet come into force. When
the case reached before House of Lords, it was argued that “the law of tort should
give a remedy for any kind of distress caused by an infringement of the right of privacy
protected by article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights”.
It was further argued that reliance must be placed upon the judgment of Sedley LJ in
Douglas v Hello! Ltd234 (2001), where it was said that:
"What a concept of privacy does, however, is accord
recognition to the fact that the law has to protect not only those
people whose trust has been abused but those who simply find
themselves subjected to an unwanted intrusion into their
personal lives. The law no longer needs to construct an artificial
relationship of confidentiality between intruder and victim: it can
recognise privacy itself as a legal principle drawn from the
fundamental value of personal autonomy." (emphasis supplied)
However, Lord Hoffman in Wainwright rejected all the contentions and held that:
“I do not understand Sedley LJ to have been advocating the
creation of a high-level principle of invasion of privacy. His
observations are in my opinion no more (although certainly no less)
than a plea for the extension and possibly renaming of the old action
for breach of confidence.”
Lord Hoffman also observed that:
“What the courts have so far refused to do is to formulate a general
principle of “invasion of privacy” …
There seems to me a great difference between identifying privacy
as a value which underlies the existence of a rule of law (and may
point the direction in which the law should develop) and privacy as
a principle of law in itself. The English common law is familiar with
234 [2001] QB 967
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the notion of underlying values - principles only in the broadest
sense - which direct its development…
Nor is there anything in the jurisprudence of the European Court of
Human Rights which suggests that the adoption of some high level
principle of privacy is necessary to comply with article 8 of the
Convention. The European Court is concerned only with whether
English law provides an adequate remedy in a specific case in
which it considers that there has been an invasion of privacy
contrary to article 8(1) and not justifiable under article 8(2).”
There has been a transformation in this approach after the Human Rights Act, 1998
(HRA) came into force. For the first time, privacy was incorporated as a right under
the British law.235 In Campbell v MGN236 (2004), a well-known model was
photographed leaving a rehabilitation clinic, following public denials that she was a
recovering drug addict. The photographs were published in a publication run by MGN.
She sought damages under the English law through her lawyers to bring a claim for
breach of confidence engaging Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. The House of
Lords by majority decided in her favour. Lord Hope writing for the majority held:
“[I]f there is an intrusion in a situation where a person can
reasonably expect his privacy to be respected, that intrusion will be
capable of giving rise to liability unless the intrusion can be
justified… [A] duty of confidence arises when confidential
information comes to the knowledge of a person where he has
notice that the information is confidential.”
235 The UK Human Rights Act incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights
(ECHR) into domestic British law. The Preamble of the Act states that it “gives further effect to rights and
freedoms guaranteed” under the ECHR. Under the Act (S. 6), it is unlawful for any public authority, including a
court or tribunal at any level, to act in a manner which is incompatible with a Convention right. The Convention
rights take precedence over rules of common law or equity, and over most subordinate legislations. The Act,
thereby, protects the right to privacy, which has been provided under Article 8 (1) of the ECHR. See Ben
Emmerson et al. (ed), Human Rights and Criminal Justice, Sweet & Maxwell (2000). See also “Concerns and
Ideas about the Developing English Law of Privacy”, Institute of Global Law, available online at
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/global_law/publications/institute/docs/privacy_100804.pdf.
236 [2004] 2 AC 457.
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In holding so, Lord Hope relied upon the following statement of Lord Woolf in A v B
Inc237 (2003):
“A duty of confidence will arise whenever a party subject to the duty
is in a situation where he either knows or ought to know that the
other person can reasonably expect his privacy to be protected.”
Lord Hope also held that the Courts, in order to decide a case, must carry out a
“balancing operation, weighing the public interest in maintaining confidence against a
countervailing public interest favouring disclosure”.
Baroness Hale wrote a concurring judgment and held that:
“The Human Rights 1998 Act does not create any new cause of action
between private persons. But if there is a relevant cause of action
applicable, the court as a public authority must act compatibly with both
parties' Convention rights. In a case such as this, the relevant vehicle
will usually be the action for breach of confidence, as Lord Woolf CJ
held in A v B plc [2002] EWCA Civ 337, [2003] QB 195, 202, para 4 :
"[Articles 8 and 10] have provided new parameters
within which the court will decide, in an action for
breach of confidence, whether a person is entitled
to have his privacy protected by the court or
whether the restriction of freedom of expression
which such protection involves cannot be justified.
The court's approach to the issues which the
applications raise has been modified because,
under section 6 of the 1998 Act, the court, as a
public authority, is required not to 'act in a way
which is incompatible with a Convention right'. The
court is able to achieve this by absorbing the rights
which articles 8 and 10 protect into the longestablished
action for breach of confidence. This
involves giving a new strength and breadth to the
action so that it accommodates the requirements of
these articles."
237 [2003] QB 195
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Later, in Douglas v Hello! Ltd238, it was held that:
“What the House [in Campbell] was agreed upon was that the
knowledge, actual or imputed, that information is private will
normally impose on anyone publishing that information the duty to
justify what, in the absence of justification, will be a wrongful
invasion of privacy.”
Subsequent cases establish the contribution the HRA has made in jurisprudence on
privacy in the UK. In Associated Newspapers Limited v His Royal Highness the
Prince of Wales239 (2006), an appeal was made against the judgment in respect of
the claim of Prince Charles for breach of confidence and infringement of copyright.
The case brought about when ‘The Mail on Sunday’ published extracts of a dispatch
by the Prince of Wales. The Court held that:
“The information at issue in this case is private information, public
disclosure of which constituted an interference with Prince Charles’
Article 8 rights. As heir to the throne, Prince Charles is an important
public figure. In respect of such persons the public takes an interest
in information about them that is relatively trivial. For this reason
public disclosure of such information can be particularly intrusive…
Prince Charles has a valid claim based on breach of confidence and
interference with his Article 8 rights.”
In Murray v Big Pictures (UK) Ltd240 (2008), a photographer had taken a series of
photographs of a writer’s infant son, which were later published in a newspaper. The
issue was whether there was misuse of private information by taking photographs. It
was held that:
238 [2006] QB 125
239 [2006] EWCA Civ 1776
240 [2008] 3 WLR 1360
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“[The] question of whether there is a reasonable expectation of
privacy is a broad one, which takes account of all the circumstances
of the case. They include the attributes of the claimant, the nature
of the activity in which the claimant was engaged, the place at which
it was happening, the nature and purpose of the intrusion, the
absence of consent and whether it was known or could be inferred,
the effect on the claimant and the circumstances in which and the
purposes for which the information came into the hands of the
publisher… [I]t is at least arguable that David had a reasonable
expectation of privacy. The fact that he is a child is in our view of
greater significance than the judge thought.”
R v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis241 (2011) was a case concerning
the extent of the police's power (under guidelines issued by the Association of Chief
Police Officers- the ACPO guidelines) to indefinitely retain biometric data associated
with individuals who are no longer suspected of a criminal offence. The UK Supreme
Court, by a majority held that the police force's policy of retaining DNA evidence in the
absence of 'exceptional circumstances' was unlawful and a violation of Article 8 of the
European Convention on Human Rights. Lord Dyson, on behalf of the majority, held
that:
“It is important that, in such an important and sensitive area as the
retention of biometric data by the police, the court reflects its
decision by making a formal order to declare what it considers to be
the true legal position. But it is not necessary to go further. Section
8(1) of the HRA gives the court a wide discretion to grant such relief
or remedy within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.
Since Parliament is already seized of the matter, it is neither just
nor appropriate to make an order requiring a change in the
legislative scheme within a specific period…
241 [2011] UKSC 21
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….he present ACPO guidelines are unlawful because they are
incompatible with article 8 of the ECHR. I would grant no other
relief.”
In the matter of an application by JR38 for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland)242
(2015), the Appellant was involved in rioting in 2010, when still only 14 years of age.
The police, in order to identify those responsible, and for the sake of deterrence,
published CCTV footage depicting the Appellant in two newspapers. The issue
involved was: “Whether the publication of photographs by the police to identify a young
person suspected of being involved in riotous behaviour and attempted criminal damage
can ever be a necessary and proportionate interference with that person’s article 8
rights?” The majority held that Article 8 was not engaged, as there was no reasonable
expectation of privacy in the case. Lord Toulson (with whom Lord Hodge agreed), while
stating that the conduct of the police did not amount, prima facie, to an interference with
the appellant’s right to respect for his private life, held that:
“The reasonable or legitimate expectation test is an objective test.
It is to be applied broadly, taking account of all the circumstances
of the case (as Sir Anthony Clarke said in Murray’s case) and having
regard to underlying value or values to be protected. Thus, for
example, the publication of a photograph of a young person acting
in a criminal manner for the purpose of enabling the police to
discover his identity may not fall within the scope of the protection
of personal autonomy which is the purpose of article 8, but the
publication of the same photograph for another purpose might.”
242 [2015] UKSC 42
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Lord Clarke wrote a separate judgment concurring with Lord Toulson and held that:
“… the criminal nature of what the appellant was doing was not an
aspect of his private life that he was entitled to keep private. He
could not have had an objectively reasonable expectation that such
photographs, taken for the limited purpose of identifying who he
was, would not be published.”
The decision in PJS v News Group Newspapers Ltd243 (2016) dealt with an
anonymised privacy injunction244. The injunction was sought by the claimant to
restrain publication of details of his sexual relationship with two other people, on the
ground that the publication would breach his rights to privacy and confidentiality,
protected by Article 8 of ECHR. The UK Supreme Court by majority ruled in favour
of the applicant. Speaking on behalf of the majority, Lord Mance held that:
“… having regard to the nature of the material sought to be
published and the identity and financial circumstances of the
appellant, that the appellant’s real concern is indeed with the
invasion of privacy that would be involved in further disclosure and
publication in the English media, and that any award of damages,
however assessed, would be an inadequate remedy.”
The HRA has rendered clarity on the existence of a right to privacy in UK
jurisprudence and substantially resolved conflicting approaches regarding privacy in
decided cases. The HRA, by incorporating the provisions of the European
243 [2016] UKSC 26
244 In English law, an anonymised injunction is “an interim injunction which restrains a person from publishing
information which concerns the applicant and is said to be confidential or private where the names of either
or both of the parties to the proceedings are not stated”. See “Report of the Committee on Super-Injunctions:
Super-Injunctions, Anonymised Injunctions and Open Justice” (2011), available online at
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Reports/super-injunction-report-
20052011.pdf
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Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), has adopted the guarantee of the right to
privacy into UK domestic law. The Convention, together with its adoption into
domestic legislation, has led to a considerable change in the development of
protection of human privacy in English law.
(ii) US Supreme Court decisions
The US Constitution does not contain an express right to privacy. But American
privacy jurisprudence reflects that it has been protected under several amendments245
of the US Constitution.
As early as 1886, in Boyd v United States246
, the question before the US Supreme
Court was whether compulsory production of a person’s private papers to be used in
evidence against him in a judicial proceeding, is an unreasonable search and seizure
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Justice Bradley delivered the opinion
of the Court and held as follows:
“The principles laid down in this opinion affect the very essence of
constitutional liberty and security… they apply to all invasions
on the part of the government and its employees of the sanctity
of a man's home and the privacies of life. It is not the breaking
of his doors and the rummaging of his drawers that constitutes
the essence of the offence, but it is the invasion of his
indefeasible right of personal security, personal liberty, and
private property, -- it is the invasion of this sacred right ...
245The concept of privacy plays a major role in the jurisprudence of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendments. The Ninth Amendment has also been interpreted to justify broadly reading the Bill of Rights to
protect privacy in ways not specifically provided in the first eight amendments.
246 116 US 616 (1886)
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And any compulsory discovery by extorting the party's oath, or
compelling the production of his private books and papers, to
convict him of crime or to forfeit his property, is contrary to the
principles of a free government... It may suit the purposes of
despotic power, but it cannot abide the pure atmosphere of political
liberty and personal freedom.” (emphasis supplied)
In two decisions in the 1920s, the Court read the Fourteenth Amendment’s liberty to
prohibit states from making laws interfering with the private decisions of parents and
educators to shape the education of their children. In Meyer v Nebraska247 (1923),
the Court struck down a state law that prohibited the teaching of foreign languages to
students that had not yet completed the eighth grade. The Court in a 7:2 decision,
written by Justice McReynolds, concluded that the state failed to show a compelling
need to infringe upon the rights of parents and teachers to decide on the best course
of education for young students. On liberty, Justice McReynolds held:
“Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint, but
also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common
occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a
home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of
his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long
recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness
by free men. The established doctrine is that this liberty may not be
interfered with, under the guise of protecting the public interest, by
legislative action which is arbitrary or without reasonable relation to some
purpose within the competency of the State to effect.”
247 262 US 390 (1923)
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Two years later, in Pierce v Society of Sisters248 (1925), the Court, relying upon
Mayer v Nebraska, struck down the Oregon Compulsory Education Act, which
mandated all children (between eight and sixteen years) to attend public schools. It
was held the said statute is an “unreasonable interference with the liberty of the
parents and guardians to direct the upbringing of the children, and in that respect
violates the Fourteenth Amendment”.
In Olmstead v United States249 (1928), the question before the Court was whether
the use of evidence of private telephone conversations, intercepted by means of
wiretapping amounted to a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In a 5:4
decision, it was held that there was no violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Chief Justice Taft wrote the majority judgment, holding that:
“The Amendment itself shows that the search is to be of material
things -- the person, the house, his papers, or his effects…. The
Amendment does not forbid what was done here. There was no
searching. There was no seizure. The evidence was secured by the
use of the sense of hearing, and that only. There was no entry of
the houses or offices of the defendants.”
However, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote a dissenting opinion and observed that:
“… time works changes, brings into existence new conditions and
purposes." Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading
privacy have become available to the Government. Discovery and
invention have made it possible for the Government, by means far
more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in
court of what is whispered in the closet. Moreover, “in the
248 (268) US 510 (1925)
249 277 US 438 (1928)
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application of a constitution, our contemplation cannot be only
of what has, been but of what may be.” The progress of science
in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely
to stop with wiretapping. Ways may someday be developed by
which the Government, without removing papers from secret
drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be
enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the
home. Advances in the psychic and related sciences may bring
means of exploring unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions…”
(emphasis supplied)
He questioned whether the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions
of individual security. Justice Brandeis answers this question in a celebrated passage:
“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions
favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They sought to protect
Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their
sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the
right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights, and
the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right,
every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of
the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a
violation of the Fourth Amendment...” (emphasis supplied)
The Court, in the case of Griswold v Connecticut250 (1965), invalidated a state law
prohibiting the possession, sale, and distribution of contraceptives to married couples,
for the reason that the law violated the right to marital privacy. Justice Douglas, who
delivered the main opinion, observed that this right emanated from “penumbras” of
the fundamental constitutional guarantees and rights in the Bill of Rights, which
together create “zones of privacy”. Accordingly, it was held that:
250 381 US 479 (1965)
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“The present case, then concerns a relationship lying within the
zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional
guarantees… Would we allow the police to search the sacred
precincts of marital bedrooms of telltale signs of the use of
contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy
surrounding the marriage relationship.”
Justice Goldberg wrote in the concurring opinion that:
“The fact that no particular provision of the Constitution explicitly
forbids the State from disrupting the traditional relation of the family
-- a relation as old and as fundamental as our entire civilization --
surely does not show that the Government was meant to have the
power to do so. Rather, as the Ninth Amendment expressly
recognizes, there are fundamental personal rights such as this one,
which are protected from abridgment by the Government, though
not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.”
The 1967 decision in Katz v United States251 (“Katz”) overruled Olmstead v United
States (supra) and revolutionized the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment
regarding the extent to which a constitutional right to privacy applies against
government interference. In this case, Charles Katz was a gambler who used a public
telephone booth to transmit illegal wagers. Unbeknownst to Katz, the FBI which was
investigating Katz’s activity, was recording his conversations via an electronic
eavesdropping device attached to the exterior of the phone booth. Subsequently, Katz
was convicted based on these recordings. He challenged his conviction, arguing that
the recordings were obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The
constitutional question in the case was whether the 4th Amendment protection from
‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ was restricted to the search and seizure of
251 389 US 347 (1967)
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tangible property, or did it extend to intangible areas such as conversations overheard
by others. It was held that the Government's eavesdropping activities violated the
privacy, upon which petitioner justifiably relied, while using the telephone booth, and
thus constituted a “search and seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,
and that the Amendment governs not only the seizure of tangible items, but extends
as well to the recording of oral statements.
Prior to 1967 when determining the ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ for purposes
of discussing Fourth Amendment violations, the analysis was focused on whether the
authority had trespassed on a private location. This ‘trespass doctrine’ was the
prevailing test until Katz, which extended the protection of the Fourth Amendment
from ‘places’ to ‘people’, affording individuals more privacy even in public. The
‘trespass doctrine’ applied in Olmstead v United States (supra) was held to be no
longer relevant.
Justice Stewart wrote the majority (7:1) opinion and held that:
“One who occupies it [a telephone booth], shuts the door behind
him, and pays the toll that permits him to place a call is surely
entitled to assume that the words he utters into the
mouthpiece will not be broadcast to the world. To read the
Constitution more narrowly is to ignore the vital role that the
public telephone has come to play in private communication.”
(emphasis supplied)
Justice Harlan wrote the concurring judgment holding that:
“a) that an enclosed telephone booth is an area where, like a
home… a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable
expectation of privacy; (b) that electronic, as well as physical,
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intrusion into a place that is in this sense private may
constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment....”
(emphasis supplied)
The reasonable expectation of privacy test was formulated as follows:
“....the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." The
question, however, is what protection it affords to those
people. Generally, as here, the answer to that question requires
reference to a "place." My understanding of the rule that has
emerged from prior decisions is that there is a twofold requirement,
first that a person has exhibited an actual (subjective)
expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be
one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable."
Thus, a man's home is, for most purposes, a place where he
expects privacy, but objects, activities, or statements that he
exposes to the "plain view" of outsiders are not "protected,"
because no intention to keep them to himself has been
exhibited. On the other hand, conversations in the open would
not be protected against being overheard, for the expectation
of privacy under the circumstances would be unreasonable.”
(emphasis supplied)
In Stanley v Georgia252 (1969), the Court analyzed the constitutionality of a statute
imposing criminal sanctions upon the knowing possession of obscene matter. The
Court, in a unanimous decision, held that mere private possession of obscene matter
cannot constitutionally be made a crime:
“For also fundamental is the right to be free, except in very limited
circumstances, from unwanted governmental intrusions into one's
privacy...
[T]he rights that the appellant is asserting in the case before us...the
right to read or observe what he pleases -- the right to satisfy his
intellectual and emotional needs in the privacy of his own
home…..the right to be free from state inquiry into the contents of
his library...
252 394 US 557 (1969)
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Whatever the power of the state to control public dissemination of
ideas inimical to the public morality, it cannot constitutionally
premise legislation on the desirability of controlling a person's
private thoughts.”
Seven years after Griswold, the Court expanded the right to privacy beyond the
‘marital bedroom’ to include unmarried persons. In Eisenstadt v Baird253 (1972), the
Court invalidated a law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried
persons, ruling that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution:
“It is true that in Griswold the right of privacy in question inhered in
the marital relationship. Yet the marital couple is not an independent
entity with a mind and heart of its own, but an association of two
individuals each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.
If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual,
married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental
intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the
decision whether to bear or beget a child.”
The decision in Paris Adult Theatre I v Slaton254 (1973), upheld a state court's
injunction against the showing of obscene films in a movie theatre, restricted to
consenting adults. The Court distinguished the case from Stanley v Georgia (supra),
on the ground that the privacy of the home in Stanley was not the same as the
commercial exhibition of obscene movies in a theatre. Chief Justice Burger observed
that the prior decisions of the Supreme Court on the right to privacy only included
those personal rights that were “fundamental" or “implicit in the concept of ordered
253 405 US 438 (1972)
254 413 US 49 (1973)
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liberty” such as “the personal intimacies of the home, the family, marriage,
motherhood, procreation and childbearing” and held that:
“Nothing, however, in this Court's decisions intimates that there is
any "fundamental" privacy right "implicit in the concept of ordered
liberty" to watch obscene movies in places of public
accommodation… The idea of a "privacy" right and a place of public
accommodation are, in this context, mutually exclusive.”
In the landmark decision on the right to abortion, Roe v Wade255 (1973), the Court
dealt with the question of the right of an unmarried pregnant woman to terminate her
pregnancy by abortion. The constitutionality of a Texas Statute prohibiting abortions
except with respect to those procured or admitted by medical advice for the purpose
of saving the life of the mother was challenged on the ground that the law improperly
invaded the right and the choice of a pregnant woman to terminate her pregnancy and
was violative of the “liberty” guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment and the
right to privacy recognized in Griswold. The Court ruled 7:2 that a right to privacy
under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extended to a woman's
decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state's
interests in regulating abortions. Justice Blackmun delivered the majority judgment
and held that:
“The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of
privacy. In a line of decisions, however, the Court has
recognised that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of
certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the
Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices
have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First
Amendment; in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights; in the Ninth
255 410 US 113 (1973)
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Amendment; or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first
section of the Fourteenth Amendment...
This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth
Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions
upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court
determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to
the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision
whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” (emphasis supplied)
The right to privacy in bank records was analysed by the US Supreme Court in United
States v Miller256 (1976). In this case federal agents were investigating the defendant
for his involvement in a bootlegging conspiracy. The agents subpoenaed two banks
and received his bank records. As a result, he was indicted. The question was whether
an individual reasonably can expect that records kept incidental to his personal
banking transactions will be protected from uncontrolled government inspection. In a
6:3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a bank depositor has no Fourth Amendment
interest in the records that his bank is required to keep in compliance with the Bank
Secrecy Act of 1970, and that Miller had no right to privacy in his bank records. Writing
for the majority, Justice Lewis F. Powell asserted that the “documents subpoenaed...
are not [Miller’s] ‘private papers’,” but instead, part of the bank’s business records. It
was held:
“There is no legitimate "expectation of privacy" in the contents
of the original checks and deposit slips, since the checks are
not confidential communications, but negotiable instruments
to be used in commercial transactions, and all the documents
obtained contain only information voluntarily conveyed to the banks
and exposed to their employees in the ordinary course of business.
256 425 US 435 (1976)
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The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of
information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to
Government authorities. The Act's recordkeeping requirements do
not alter these considerations so as to create a protectable Fourth
Amendment interest of a bank depositor in the bank's records of his
account.”
However, Justice Brennan dissented and held that:
“A bank customer's reasonable expectation is that, absent a
compulsion by legal process, the matters he reveals to the bank will
be utilized by the bank only for internal banking purposes... [A]
depositor reveals many aspects of his personal affairs, opinions,
habits, associations. Indeed, the totality of bank records provides a
virtual current biography…Development of...sophisticated
instruments have accelerated the ability of the government to
intrude into areas which a person normally chooses to exclude from
prying eyes and inquisitive minds. Consequently, judicial
interpretations of the constitutional protection of individual privacy
must keep pace with the perils created by these new devices.”
Continuing its trend of expansion of individual rights in the 1960s and 1970s,
particularly in the domain of reproductive health - the right to contraceptives as well
as the right to abortion, the decision in Carey v Population Services International257
(1977) expanded these rights from adults to also include minors. In this case, a New
York law banning sale of even non-prescription contraceptives by persons other than
licensed pharmacists; sale or distribution to minors under sixteen; and contraceptive
display and advertising was declared unconstitutional. Justice Brennan delivered the
majority opinion of the Court and held that the Fourteenth Amendment is not for “adults
alone” and “Minors, as well as adults, are protected by the Constitution”:
257 431 US 678 (1977)
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“This right of personal privacy includes "the interest in
independence in making certain kinds of important decisions." ...
While the outer limits of this aspect of privacy have not been marked
by the Court, it is clear that among the decisions that an individual
may make without unjustified government interference are personal
decisions "relating to marriage...; procreation...; contraception...;
family relationships...; and childrearing and education...”
It was further held that:
“The decision whether or not to beget or bear a child is at the very
heart of this cluster of constitutionally protected choices... This is
understandable, for in a field that, by definition, concerns the most
intimate of human activities and relationships, decisions whether to
accomplish or to prevent conception are among the most private
and sensitive…”
The Court also held that the right to privacy may be limited by a regulation,
which is governed by a sufficient ‘compelling state interest’.
In Smith v Maryland258 (1979), it was held that installation and use of a ‘pen register’
was not a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and hence no
warrant was required. Justice Blackmun delivered the majority (5: 4) opinion and held
that the petitioner’s claim that he had a “legitimate expectation of privacy” could not
be sustained:
“First, we doubt that people in general entertain any actual
expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial. All telephone
users realize that they must "convey" phone numbers to the
telephone company, since it is through telephone company
258 442 US 735 (1979)
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switching equipment that their calls are completed. All subscribers
realize, moreover, that the phone company has facilities for making
permanent records of the numbers they dial, for they see a list of
their long-distance (toll) calls on their monthly bills. In fact, pen
registers and similar devices are routinely used by telephone
companies "for the purposes of checking billing operations,
detecting fraud, and preventing violations of law." (emphasis
supplied)
The majority adopted the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test as formulated by
Justice Harlan in Katz and held as follows:
“[The] inquiry, as Mr. Justice Harlan aptly noted in his Katz
concurrence, normally embraces two discrete questions. The first
is whether the individual, by his conduct, has "exhibited an actual
(subjective) expectation of privacy"... whether... the individual has
shown that "he seeks to preserve [something] as private"... The
second question is whether the individual's subjective expectation
of privacy is "one that society is prepared to recognize as
reasonable,'"... whether... the individual's expectation, viewed
objectively, is "justifiable" under the circumstances.
Since the pen register was installed on telephone company
property at the telephone company's central offices, petitioner
obviously cannot claim that his "property" was invaded or that
police intruded into a "constitutionally protected area."
Thus the Court held that the petitioner in all probability entertained no actual
expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialled, and that, even if he did, his
expectation was not “legitimate.” However, the judgment also noted the limitations of
the Katz test:
“Situations can be imagined, of course, in which Katz' twopronged
inquiry would provide an inadequate index of Fourth
Amendment protection… In such circumstances, where an
individual's subjective expectations had been "conditioned" by
influences alien to well recognized Fourth Amendment freedoms,
those subjective expectations obviously could play no meaningful
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role in ascertaining what the scope of Fourth Amendment protection
was. “
Justice Stewart wrote the dissent, joined by Justice Brennan and held that there was
a legitimate expectation of privacy in this case:
“...the numbers dialled from a private telephone -- like the
conversations that occur during a call -- are within the constitutional
protection recognized in Katz. It seems clear to me that information
obtained by pen register surveillance of a private telephone is
information in which the telephone subscriber has a legitimate
expectation of privacy. The information captured by such
surveillance emanates from private conduct within a person's home
or office -- locations that without question are entitled to Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment protection. Further, that information is an
integral part of the telephonic communication that, under Katz, is
entitled to constitutional protection…”
Justice Marshal dissented and opined on the dangers of permitting such surveillance,
holding:
“The use of pen registers, I believe, constitutes such an extensive
intrusion. To hold otherwise ignores the vital role telephonic
communication plays in our personal and professional
relationships, as well as the First and Fourth Amendment interests
implicated by unfettered official surveillance. Privacy in placing calls
is of value not only to those engaged in criminal activity. The
prospect of unregulated governmental monitoring will undoubtedly
prove disturbing even to those with nothing illicit to hide. Many
individuals, including members of unpopular political organizations
or journalists with confidential sources, may legitimately wish to
avoid disclosure of their personal contacts...
Permitting governmental access to telephone records on less
than probable cause may thus impede certain forms of political
affiliation and journalistic endeavor that are the hallmark of a
truly free society. Particularly given the Government's previous
reliance on warrantless telephonic surveillance to trace reporters'
sources and monitor protected political activity...
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I am unwilling to insulate use of pen registers from independent
judicial review.” (emphasis supplied)
In Planned Parenthood v Casey259 (1992), several Pennsylvania state statutory
provisions regarding abortion such as spousal consent were challenged. The Court
reaffirmed- what it called- the “essential holding”260 of Roe v Wade (supra), and
observed:
“...Our precedents “have respected the private realm of family life
which the state cannot enter.” ... These matters, involving the most
intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime,
choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the
liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of
liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of
meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs
about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood
were they formed under compulsion of the State…
The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the
most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a
component of liberty we cannot renounce.”
In Minnesota v Carter261 (1998), the question was whether the Fourth Amendment
protected against the viewing by an outside police officer, through a drawn window
blind, of the defendants’ bagging cocaine in an apartment. The Court answered this
question in the negative. Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the majority opinion of the
259 505 US 833 (1992)
260 The essential holding of Roe, as summarized in Planned Parenthood, comprised of the following three parts:
(1) a recognition of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion before foetal viability and to obtain it without
undue interference from the State, whose pre-viability interests are not strong enough to support an abortion
prohibition or the imposition of substantial obstacles to the woman's effective right to elect the procedure; (2) a
confirmation of the State's power to restrict abortions after viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies
endangering a woman's life or health; and (3) the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset
of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.
261 525 US 83 (1998)
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Court noting that “[t]he text of the Amendment suggests that its protections extend
only to people in “their” houses.” The case was distinguished from Minnesota v
Olson262 (1990), where the Supreme Court decided that an overnight guest in a house
had the sort of expectation of privacy that the Fourth Amendment protects. The Court
was of the view that while an overnight guest in a home may claim the protection of
the Fourth Amendment, one who is merely present with the consent of the
householder may not. The respondents, in this case, were not overnight guests, but
were present for a business transaction and were only in the home for a few hours.
The Court held:
“Property used for commercial purposes is treated differently
for Fourth Amendment purposes from residential property.
"An expectation of privacy in commercial premises, however,
is different from, and indeed less than, a similar expectation in
an individual's home."...
And while it was a "home" in which respondents were present, it
was not their home…
the purely commercial nature of the transaction engaged in here,
the relatively short period of time on the premises, and the lack of
any previous connection between respondents and the
householder, all lead us to conclude .... any search which may have
occurred did not violate their Fourth Amendment rights.” (emphasis
supplied)
Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion joined by Justice Stevens and Justice
Souter, and held that:
“Our decisions indicate that people have a reasonable expectation
of privacy in their homes in part because they have the prerogative
262 495 US 91 (1990)
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to exclude others… Through the host’s invitation, the guest gains a
reasonable expectation of privacy in the home. Minnesota v. Olson,
495 U. S. 91 (1990), so held with respect to an overnight guest. The
logic of that decision extends to shorter term guests as well.”
In Kyllo v United States263 (2001), the Court held (5:4 majority) that the thermal
imaging of the house of a person suspected of growing marijuana was a violation of
the right to privacy. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court and held that
there is no distinction between “off-the-wall” and “through-the-wall” surveillance as
both lead to an intrusion into an individual’s privacy:
“Limiting the prohibition of thermal imaging to “intimate
details” would not only be wrong in principle; it would be
impractical in application, failing to provide “a workable
accommodation between the needs of law enforcement and
the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment,”…
We…would have to develop a jurisprudence specifying which home
activities are “intimate” and which are not. And even when (if ever)
that jurisprudence were fully developed, no police officer would be
able to know in advance whether his through-the-wall surveillance
picks up “intimate” details–and thus would be unable to know in
advance whether it is constitutional…” (emphasis supplied)
It was concluded that even though no “significant” compromise of the homeowner’s
privacy had occurred due to the thermal imaging, “the long view, from the original
meaning of the Fourth Amendment” must be taken forward.
263 533 US 27 (2001)
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In Lawrence v Texas264
, the Court in a 6:3 decision struck down the sodomy law in
Texas and by extension invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states, making samesex
sexual activity legal in every state and territory of the United States. The Court
overturned its previous ruling on the same issue in the 1986 case, Bowers v
Hardwick265 (1986), where it upheld a challenged Georgia statute and did not find a
constitutional protection of sexual privacy. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the
majority opinion (6: 3 decision) and held that:
“The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The
State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by
making their private sexual conduct a crime… It is a promise of the
Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the
government may not enter… The Texas statute furthers no
legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the
personal and private life of the individual.”
Informational privacy was the core issue in NASA v Nelson266 (2011). The Court held
unanimously that NASA’s background checks of contract employees did not violate
any constitutional privacy right. The employees had argued that their constitutional
right to privacy as envisaged in previous US Supreme Court judgments namely
Whalen v Roe267 (1977) and Nixon v Administrator of General Services268 (1977),
264 539 US 558 (2003)
265 478 US 186 (1986)
266 562 US 134 (2011)
267 429 US 589 (1977). In this case, for the first time, the Court explicitly recognized an individual’s interest in
nondisclosure of information. The Court chose to address the status of privacy in the Constitution, underlining
that the constitutional right to privacy remains largely undefined and then identified the types of constitutionally
protected privacy interests as follows: “The cases sometimes characterized as protecting ‘privacy’ have in fact
involved at least two different kinds of interests. One is the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal
matters, and another is the interest in independence in making certain kinds of important decisions.”
268 433 US 425 (1977). In this case, the former President of US, Nixon, was challenging the Presidential
Recordings and Material Preservation Act, 1974 on the ground that it violated his right of privacy, as there would
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was violated by background checks. The majority judgment delivered by Justice Alito,
decided the case assuming that there existed a constitutional right to privacy. The
Court held that:
“We hold, however, that the challenged portions of the
Government’s background check do not violate this right in the
present case. The Government’s interests as employer and
proprietor in managing its internal operations, combined with the
protections against public dissemination provided by the Privacy
Act of 1974, satisfy any “interest in avoiding disclosure” that may
“arguably ha[ve] its roots in the Constitution… The Government has
good reason to ask employees about their recent illegal-drug use.”
The majority also rejected all the contentions regarding the misuse of collected data
and held:
“… the mere possibility that security measures will fail provides no
“proper ground” for a broad-based attack on government
information-collection practices. Ibid. Respondents also cite a
portion of SF–85 that warns of possible disclosure “[t]o the news
media or the general public.” App. 89. By its terms, this exception
allows public disclosure only where release is “in the public
interest” and would not result in “an unwarranted invasion of
personal privacy.” Ibid. Respondents have not cited any
example of such a disclosure, nor have they identified any
plausible scenario in which their information might be unduly
disclosed under this exception… In light of the protection
provided by the Privacy Act’s nondisclosure requirement, and
because the challenged portions of the forms consist of
reasonable inquiries in an employment background check, we
conclude that the Government’s inquiries do not violate a
constitutional right to informational privacy.” (emphasis
supplied)
be intrusion through the screening of his documents. Nixon’s plea was rejected by the Court, which held held
that “any intrusion [against privacy] must be weighed against the public interest”.
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Justice Scalia, in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas, agreed that the
background checks did not violate any constitutional rights, but argued that the Court
should have settled the constitutional privacy question in the negative. The view held
was that there exists no constitutional right to informational privacy. Scalia J. criticized
the Court's decision to evade the constitutional question, stating that:
“If, on the other hand, the Court believes that there is a
constitutional right to informational privacy, then I fail to see the
minimalist virtues in delivering a lengthy opinion analyzing that right
while coyly noting that the right is “assumed” rather than
“decided”… The Court decides that the Government did not
violate the right to informational privacy without deciding
whether there is a right to informational privacy, and without
even describing what hypothetical standard should be used to
assess whether the hypothetical right has been violated.”
(emphasis supplied)
In United States v Jones269 (2012), it was held unanimously that installing a Global
Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle and using the device to monitor
the vehicle's movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.
However, the judges were split 5:4 as to the fundamental reasons behind the
conclusion. Justice Scalia delivered the majority judgment, applying the trespass test.
It was held that the Government’s physical intrusion onto the defendant's car for the
purpose of obtaining information constituted trespass and therefore a “search”. Justice
269 565 US 400 (2012)
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Scalia, however, left unanswered the question surrounding the privacy implications of
a warrantless use of GPS data without physical intrusion.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, concurred with Justice Scalia, but addressed the privacy
aspects of the judgment. Justice Sotomayor agreed with Justice Alito’s concurrence
that “physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance”, and held
that “[i]n cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend
upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion’s trespassory test may
provide little guidance”. It was further observed:
“GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a
person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her
familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.
Disclosed in [GPS] data… will be trips the indisputably private
nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the
psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS
treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the
by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or
church, the gay bar and on and on… The Government can store
such records and efficiently mine them for information years into the
future… And because GPS monitoring is cheap in comparison to
conventional surveillance techniques and, by design, proceeds
surreptitiously, it evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive
law enforcement practices: “limited police resources and
community hostility”…
The net result is that GPS monitoring—by making available at
a relatively low cost such a substantial quantum of intimate
information about any person whom the Government, in its
unfettered discretion, chooses to track—may “alter the
relationship between citizen and government in a way that is
inimical to democratic society”.” (emphasis supplied)
Justice Sotomayor concluded, by stating:
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“[I] doubt that people would accept without complaint the
warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site
they had visited [or phone numbers dialled]... I would not assume
that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the
public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to
Fourth Amendment protection.”
In Florida v Jardines270 (2013), the Court held that police use of a trained detection
dog to sniff for narcotics on the front porch of a private home is a “search” within the
meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, and therefore, without
consent, requires both probable cause and a search warrant. Justice Scalia who
delivered the opinion of the Court held as follows:
“We… regard the area “immediately surrounding and
associated with the home”—…..as “part of the home itself for
Fourth Amendment purposes.” ….This area around the home is
“intimately linked to the home, both physically and
psychologically,” and is where “privacy expectations are most
heightened”.” (emphasis supplied)
Justice Kagan, in a concurring opinion, wrote:
“Like the binoculars, a drug-detection dog is a specialized device
for discovering objects not in plain view (or plain smell). And as in
the hypothetical above, that device was aimed here at a home—
the most private and inviolate (or so we expect) of all the
places and things the Fourth Amendment protects… the
device is not “in general public use,” training it on a home
violates our “minimal expectation of privacy”—an expectation
“that exists, and that is acknowledged to be reasonable”.”
(emphasis supplied)
270 569 US 1 (2013)
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Three years ago, in Riley v California271 (2014), the Court unanimously held that the
warrantless search and seizure of digital contents of a cell phone during an arrest is
unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court and
commented on the impact on privacy in an era of cell phones:
“Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by
physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute
only a narrow intrusion on privacy...the possible intrusion on
privacy is not physically limited in the same way when it comes
to cell phones…Data on a cell phone can also reveal where a
person has been. Historic location information is a standard
feature on many smart phones and can reconstruct someone’s
specific movements down to the minute, not only around town
but also within a particular building… Mobile application
software on a cell phone, or “apps,” offer a range of tools for
managing detailed information about all aspects of a person’s
life…
Modern cell phones are not just another technological
convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal,
they hold for many Americans “the privacies of life”... The fact
that technology now allows an individual to carry such
information in his hand does not make the information any less
worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our
answer to the question of what police must do before searching a
cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get
a warrant.” (emphasis supplied)
In Obergefell v Hodges272, the Court held in a 5:4 decision that the fundamental right
to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Kennedy authored
the majority opinion (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotamayor and Kagan):
271 573 US __ (2014)
272 576 US __ (2015)
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“Indeed, the Court has noted it would be contradictory to
recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of
family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the
relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society.”
(emphasis supplied)
The development of the jurisprudence on the right to privacy in the United States of
America shows that even though there is no explicit mention of the word ‘privacy’ in
the Constitution, the courts of the country have not only recognised the right to privacy
under various Amendments of the Constitution but also progressively extended the
ambit of protection under the right to privacy. In its early years, the focus was on
property and protection of physical spaces that would be considered private such as
an individual’s home. This ‘trespass doctrine’ became irrelevant when it was held that
what is protected under the right to privacy is “people, not places”. The ‘reasonable
expectation of privacy’ test has been relied on subsequently by various other
jurisdictions while developing the right to privacy. Having located the right to privacy
in the ‘person’, American jurisprudence on the right to privacy has developed to shield
various private aspects of a person’s life from interference by the state - such as
conscience, education, personal information, communications and conversations,
sexuality, marriage, procreation, contraception, individual beliefs, thoughts and
emotions, political and other social groups. Various judgments of the Court have also
analysed technological developments which have made surveillance more pervasive
and affecting citizens’ privacy. In all these cases, the Court has tried to balance the
interests of the individual in maintaining the right to privacy with the interest of the
State in maintaining law and order. Decisions of the Supreme Court decriminalizing
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consensual sexual activity between homosexuals and guaranteeing same-sex
couples the right to marry indicate that the right to privacy is intrinsic to the
constitutional guarantees of liberty and equal protection of laws.
(iii) Constitutional right to privacy in South Africa
In South Africa, the right to privacy has been enshrined in Section 14 of the Bill of
Rights in the 1996 Constitution. Section 14 provides that:
“14. Privacy.-Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right
not to have-
(a) their person or home searched;
(6) their property searched;
(c) their possessions seized; or
(d) the privacy of their communications infringed.”
In National Media Ltd v Jooste273 (1996), Justice Harms defined privacy in the
following terms:
“Privacy is an individual condition of life characterised by exclusion
from the public and publicity. The condition embraces all those
personal facts which a person concerned has determined him to be
excluded from the knowledge of outsiders and in respect of which he
has the will that they be kept private”
On the ambit of the right to privacy, the Court held that:
“A right to privacy encompasses the competence to determine the
destiny of private facts…
The individual concerned is entitled to dictate the ambit of disclosure ...
273 1996 (3) SA 262 (A)
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the purpose and method [of] the disclosure... when and under what
conditions private facts may be made public. A contrary view will place
undue constraints upon the individual's so-called “absolute rights of
personality”…
It will also mean that rights of personality are of a lower order than real
or personal rights”.
In Bernstein v Bester and Others274 (1996), the South African Supreme Court
decided on a challenge to the constitutionality of certain sections of the Companies
Act, on the ground that examination under these sections violated the general right
to personal privacy (section 13). It was held that the provisions were not in breach of
the Constitution. Justice Ackermann expounded upon the concept of privacy as
follows:
“The scope of privacy has been closely related to the concept of identity
and ... [that] the right… [is] based on a notion of the unencumbered
self, but on the notion of what is necessary to have one’s own
autonomous identity”.
The Court observed that like every other right, the right to privacy also has its limits:
“[67] In the context of privacy it is only the inner sanctum of a person,
such as his/her family life, sexual preference and home environment,
which is shielded from erosion by conflicting rights of the community.
This implies that community rights and the rights of fellow members
place a corresponding obligation on a citizen, thereby shaping the
abstract notion of individualism towards identifying a concrete member
of civil society. Privacy is acknowledged in the truly personal realm, but
as a person moves into communal relations and activities such as
business and social interaction, the scope of personal space shrinks
accordingly.”
274 1996 (2) SA 751 (CC)
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The constitutional validity of laws making sodomy an offence was challenged in
National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice275 (1999).
It was held that the common law offence of sodomy was inconsistent with the
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Ackermann J. described how
discrimination leads to invasion of privacy and held that:
“Privacy recognises that we all have a right to a sphere of private
intimacy and autonomy which allows us to establish and nurture human
relationships without interference from the outside community. The way
in which we give expression to our sexuality is at the core of this area
of private intimacy. If, in expressing our sexuality, we act consensually
and without harming one another, invasion of that precinct will be a
breach of our privacy…”
Sachs J. discussed the interrelation between equality and privacy and held that:
“...equality and privacy cannot be separated, because they are both
violated simultaneously by anti-sodomy laws. In the present matter,
such laws deny equal respect for difference, which lies at the heart of
equality, and become the basis for the invasion of privacy. At the same
time, the negation by the state of different forms of intimate personal
behaviour becomes the foundation for the repudiation of equality.”
On the meaning of ‘autonomy’, the Court observed that:
“Autonomy must mean far more than the right to occupy an
envelope of space in which a socially detached individual can act
freely from interference by the state. What is crucial is the nature
of the activity, not its site. While recognising the unique worth of each
person, the Constitution does not presuppose that a holder of rights
is as an isolated, lonely and abstract figure possessing a disembodied
and socially disconnected self. It acknowledges that people live in
their bodies, their communities, their cultures, their places and
their times. ...It is not for the state to choose or to arrange the choice
275 1999 (1) SA 6 (CC)
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of partner, but for the partners to choose themselves.” (emphasis
supplied)
Justice Sachs noted that the motif which links and unites equality and privacy, and
which runs right through the protections offered by the Bill of Rights, is dignity.
In Investigating Directorate: Serious Offences v Hyundai Motor Distributors
Ltd276 (2001), the Court was concerned with the constitutionality of the provisions of
the National Prosecuting Authority Act that authorised the issuing of warrants of
search and seizure for purposes of a “preparatory investigation”.
Langa J. delivered judgment on the right to privacy of juristic persons and held that:
“... privacy is a right which becomes more intense the closer it moves
to the intimate personal sphere of the life of human beings, and less
intense as it moves away from that core. This understanding of the right
flows... from the value placed on human dignity by the Constitution.
Juristic persons are not the bearers of human dignity. Their privacy
rights, therefore, can never be as intense as those of human beings.
However, this does not mean that juristic persons are not protected by
the right to privacy. Exclusion of juristic persons would lead to the
possibility of grave violations of privacy in our society, with serious
implications for the conduct of affairs.”
Highlighting the need to balance interests of the individual and the State, it was held
that:
“[54] ...Search and seizure provisions, in the context of a preparatory
investigation, serve an important purpose in the fight against crime.
That the state has a pressing interest which involves the security and
freedom of the community as a whole is beyond question. It is an
objective which is sufficiently important to justify the limitation of the
276 2001 (1) SA 545 (CC)
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right to privacy of an individual in certain circumstances….On the other
hand, state officials are not entitled without good cause to invade the
premises of persons for purposes of searching and seizing property;
...A balance must therefore be struck between the interests of the
individual and that of the state, a task that lies at the heart of the
inquiry into the limitation of rights.” (emphasis supplied)
In Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another277 (2006), the
Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled unanimously that same-sex couples have a
constitutional right to marry. The judgment delivered by Justice Sachs, held that:
“Section 9(1) of the Constitution provides: “Everyone is equal before
the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.”...
Sections 9(1) and 9(3) cannot be read as merely protecting same-sex
couples from punishment or stigmatisation. They also go beyond
simply preserving a private space in which gay and lesbian
couples may live together without interference from the state.
Indeed, what the applicants in this matter seek is not the right to
be left alone, but the right to be acknowledged as equals and to
be embraced with dignity by the law…
It is demeaning to adoptive parents to suggest that their family is
any less a family and any less entitled to respect and concern than
a family with procreated children. It is even demeaning of a couple
who voluntarily decide not to have children or sexual relations
with one another; this being a decision entirely within their
protected sphere of freedom and privacy...” (emphasis supplied)
In NM and Others v Smith and Others278 (2007), the names of three women who
were HIV positive were disclosed in a biography. They alleged that the publication,
without their prior consent, violated their rights to privacy, dignity and psychological
integrity. The Court by majority held that the respondents were aware that the
applicants had not given their express consent but had published their names, thereby
277 2006 (1) SA 524 (CC).
278 2007 (5) SA 250 (CC).
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violating their privacy and dignity rights. Justice Madala delivered the majority
judgment on the basis of the value of privacy and confidentiality in medical information
and held that:
“Private and confidential medical information contains highly sensitive
and personal information about individuals. The personal and intimate
nature of an individual’s health information, unlike other forms of
documentation, reflects delicate decisions and choices relating to
issues pertaining to bodily and psychological integrity and personal
autonomy…
Individuals value the privacy of confidential medical information
because of the vast number of people who could have access to the
information and the potential harmful effects that may result from
disclosure. The lack of respect for private medical information and its
subsequent disclosure may result in fear jeopardising an individual’s
right to make certain fundamental choices that he/she has a right to
make. There is therefore a strong privacy interest in maintaining
confidentiality.”
The decision of the Court was that there must be a pressing social need for the right
to privacy to be interfered with and that there was no such compelling public interest
in this case.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice O’Regan held that the publication of the names and
HIV status of the women was neither intentional nor negligent. In that view, the
respondents had assumed that consent was given because the applicants’ names
and HIV status were published in a publication, with no disclaimer regarding their
consent to the contrary. While elaborating on the constitutional right of privacy, the
Court held that:
“... although as human beings we live in a community and are in a
real sense both constituted by and constitutive of that community,
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we are nevertheless entitled to a personal sphere from which we
may and do exclude that community. In that personal sphere, we
establish and foster intimate human relationships and live our daily
lives. This sphere in which to pursue our own ends and interests in
our own ways, although often mundane, is intensely important to
what makes human life meaningful.”
According to the decision, there are two inter-related reasons for the constitutional
protection of privacy- one flows from the “constitutional conception of what it means
to be a human being” and the second from the “constitutional conception of the state”:
“An implicit part of [the first] aspect of privacy is the right to choose
what personal information of ours is released into the public space.
The more intimate that information, the more important it is in
fostering privacy, dignity and autonomy that an individual
makes the primary decision whether to release the
information. That decision should not be made by others. This
aspect of the right to privacy must be respected by all of us, not only
the state.
…Secondly, we value privacy as a necessary part of a
democratic society and as a constraint on the power of the
state... In authoritarian societies, the state generally does not afford
such protection. People and homes are often routinely searched
and the possibility of a private space from which the state can be
excluded is often denied. The consequence is a denial of liberty and
human dignity. In democratic societies, this is impermissible.”
(emphasis supplied)
The limits of the right to privacy and the need to balance it with other rights emerge
from the following observations:
“Recognition of legitimate limits on the inviolability of personal
space, however, does not mean that the space is not worthy of
protection. The Constitution seeks to ensure that rights reinforce
one another in a constructive manner in order to promote human
rights generally. At times our Constitution recognises that a balance
has to be found to provide protection for the different rights.”
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On the inter-relationship between the right to privacy, liberty and dignity, the Court
observed that:
“The right to privacy recognises the importance of protecting the
sphere of our personal daily lives from the public. In so doing, it
highlights the inter-relationship between privacy, liberty and
dignity as the key constitutional rights which construct our
understanding of what it means to be a human being. All these
rights are therefore inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing.
We value privacy for this reason at least – that the constitutional
conception of being a human being asserts and seeks to foster the
possibility of human beings choosing how to live their lives within
the overall framework of a broader community.” (emphasis
supplied)
The interim as well as the Final Constitution of South Africa contain explicit provisions
guaranteeing the right to privacy. The Judges of South African Supreme Court have
given an expansive meaning to the right, making significant inter-linkages between
equality, privacy and dignity. In doing so, it has been acknowledged that the right to
privacy does not exist in a vacuum, its contravention having a significant bearing on
other citizen rights as well. Such an interpretation may prove to have a catalytic effect
on a country transitioning from an apartheid state to a democratic nation.
(iv) Constitutional right to privacy in Canada
Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 (“the Charter”) does
not explicitly provide for a right to privacy, certain sections of the Charter have been
relied on by the Supreme Court of Canada to recognize a right to privacy. Most
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notably, Section 8279 (the Canadian version of the Fourth Amendment of the US
Constitution) has been employed in this respect. Privacy issues have also been
recognized in respect of Section 7280 of the Charter. In 1983, the Privacy Act was
enacted to regulate how federal government collects, uses and discloses personal
information.281 The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
(PIPEDA) governs how private sector organisations collect, use and disclose personal
information in the course of commercial activities
One of the landmark cases on the right to privacy was Hunter v Southam Inc282
(1984). This was also the first Supreme Court of Canada decision to consider Section
8 of the Charter. In this case, the Combines Investigation Act had authorized several
civil servants to enter the offices of Southam Inc and examine documents. The
company claimed that this Act violated Section 8 of the Canadian Charter. The Court
unanimously held that the Combines Investigation Act violated the Charter as it did
not provide an appropriate standard for administering warrants.
Dickson J. wrote the opinion of the Court and observed that the Canadian Charter is
a “purposive document” whose purpose is to “guarantee and to protect, within the
limits of reason, the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms it enshrines” and to
279 Section 8 of the Charter provides as follows: “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable
search or seizure.”
280 Section 7 of the Canadian Charter deals with life, liberty and security of person and states that: “Everyone has
the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance
with the principles of fundamental justice.”
281 In Lavigne v. Canada (Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages), [2002] 2 SCR 773, the Supreme
Court of Canada recognised the Privacy Act as having a "quasi-constitutional" status, as it is “closely linked to
the values and rights set out in the Constitution”. The Court also stated that the "The Privacy Act is a reminder
of the extent to which the protection of privacy is necessary to the preservation of a free and democratic society”.
282 [1984] 2 SCR 145
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constrain governmental action inconsistent with those rights and freedoms. The Court
held that since Section 8 is an entrenched constitutional provision, it was “not
vulnerable to encroachment by legislative enactments in the same way as common
law protections.”
The Court held that the purpose of Section 8 is to protect an individual's reasonable
expectation of privacy but right to privacy must be balanced against the government’s
duty to enforce the law. It was further held that:
“The guarantee of security from unreasonable search and seizure only
protects a reasonable expectation. This limitation on the right
guaranteed by s. 8, whether it is expressed negatively as freedom from
"unreasonable" search and seizure, or positively as an entitlement to a
"reasonable" expectation of privacy, indicates that an assessment must
be made as to whether in a particular situation the public's interest in
being left alone by government must give way to the government's
interest in intruding on the individual's privacy in order to advance its
goals, notably those of law enforcement.”
In Her Majesty, The Queen v Brandon Roy Dyment283 (1988), a patient had met
with an accident on a highway. A doctor collected a sample of blood from his wound.
The blood sample was taken for medical purposes but was given to a police officer.
As a result of an analysis carried out by the police officer, the patient was charged
with impaired driving. The Court held that the seizing of blood taken for medical
purposes was a violation of Section 8 of the Charter and that the spirit of the Charter
“must not be constrained by narrow legalistic classifications based on notions of
property”. It was further held:
283 [1988] 2 SCR 417
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“[L]egal claims to privacy in this sense were largely confined to the
home. But… [t]o protect privacy only in the home ... is to shelter
what has become, in modern society, only a small part of the
individual's daily environmental need for privacy...
Privacy is at the heart of liberty in a modern state...Grounded in
man's physical and moral autonomy, privacy is essential for the
well-being of the individual. For this reason alone, it is worthy of
constitutional protection, but it also has profound significance for
the public order. The restraints imposed on government to pry
into the lives of the citizen go to the essence of a democratic
state.” (emphasis supplied)
On the importance of informational privacy, it was held:
“This notion of privacy derives from the assumption that all
information about a person is in a fundamental way his own, for him
to communicate or retain for himself as he sees fit...
In modern society, especially, retention of information about oneself
is extremely important. We may, for one reason or another, wish or
be compelled to reveal such information, but situations abound
where the reasonable expectations of the individual that the
information shall remain confidential to the persons to whom, and
restricted to the purposes for which it is divulged, must be
protected.”
Justice La Forest wrote on the importance of consent and held that “the use of a
person's body without his consent to obtain information about him, invades an area of
personal privacy essential to the maintenance of his human dignity.”
The Court found that the patient had a “well-founded” and “reasonable” expectation
of privacy that his blood sample, collected by the doctor, would be used for medical
purposes only and that such expectation “is intended to protect people not things”. It
was held that:
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“In the present case, however, the respondent may, for some
purposes perhaps, be deemed to have impliedly consented to a
sample being taken for medical purposes, but he retained an
expectation that his privacy interest in the sample continue past the
time of its taking…Under these circumstances, the sample was
surrounded by an aura of privacy meriting Charter protection. For
the state to take it in violation of a patient's right to privacy
constitutes a seizure for the purposes of s. 8.”
R v Plant284 (1993) is a leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the
protection of personal information under the Charter. In this case, a police officer, on
the basis of information that marijuana was being grown in an area, accessed the
electrical utility’s computer system and discovered that a particular house was
consuming an extremely high amount of electricity. Two officers then performed a
warrantless perimeter search of the property and observed that the basement
windows were covered with something opaque and a that a vent had been blocked
using a plastic bag. On the basis of this information, the police obtained a warrant to
search the home and discovered over a hundred seedling marijuana plants. The
accused was charged with cultivation of marijuana and possession for the purpose of
trafficking. The issue was whether the warrantless perimeter search of his home and
the seizure of electricity consumption records violated his right against unreasonable
search and seizure under section 8 of the Charter.
284 [1993] 3 S.C.R. 281
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The judgment delivered by Justice Sopinka relied on a part of the United States v
Miller285 decision, that in order to be constitutionally protected the information must
be of a “personal and confidential” nature and held that:
“In fostering the underlying values of dignity, integrity and autonomy, it
is fitting that s. 8 of the Charter should seek to protect a biographical
core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic
society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the
state. This would include information which tends to reveal intimate
details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual.”
The Court held that the perimeter search violated the Charter and that the seizure of
consumption records was not in violation of Section 8. This decision was based on
the ground that the pattern of electricity consumption revealed as a result of computer
investigations could not be said to reveal intimate details since “electricity
consumption reveals very little about the personal lifestyle or private decisions.”
In Her Majesty, The Queen v Walter Tessling286 (2004), the Supreme Court of
Canada held that the use of thermal imaging by the police in the course of an
investigation of a suspect's property did not constitute a violation of the accused's
right to a reasonable expectation of privacy under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter.
On the reasonable expectation of privacy, it was held that the totality of circumstances
need to be considered with particular emphasis on both the existence of a subjective
expectation of privacy, and the objective reasonableness of the expectation. The
Court ruled that the cases of privacy interests (protected by S. 8 of the Canadian
285 425 US 435 (1976)
286 (2004) SCC 67
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Charter) need to be distinguished between personal privacy, territorial privacy and
informational privacy.”
The Court relied on Justice Sopinka’s understanding of the scope of the protection of
informational privacy in R v Plant (supra) and held that the information generated by
FLIR imaging did not reveal a “biographical core of personal information” or “intimate
details of [his] lifestyle”, and therefore section 8 had not been violated.
The decision in R v Spencer287 (2014) was related to informational privacy. In this
case, the appellant used an online software to download child pornography onto a
computer and shared it publicly. The police requested subscriber information
associated with an IP address from the appellant’s Internet Service Provider and on
the basis of it, searched the computer used by him. The Canadian Supreme Court
unanimously ruled that the request for an IP address infringed the Charter's guarantee
against unreasonable search and seizure. It was held that the appellant had a
reasonable expectation of privacy. In doing so, it assessed whether there is a
“reasonable expectation of privacy” in the “totality of the circumstances”, which
includes “the nature of the privacy interests implicated by the state action” and “factors
more directly concerned with the expectation of privacy, both subjectively and
objectively viewed, in relation to those interests”. It was further held:
“...factors that may be considered in assessing the reasonable
expectation of privacy can be grouped under four main headings for
analytical convenience: (1) the subject matter of the alleged
search; (2) the claimant's interest in the subject matter; (3) the
claimant's subjective expectation of privacy in the subject
287 (2014) SCC 43
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matter; and (4) whether this subjective expectation of privacy
was objectively reasonable, having regard to the totality of the
circumstances.” (emphasis supplied)
The issue in the case was whether there is a privacy interest in subscriber information
with respect to computers used in homes for private purposes. The Court applied a
broad approach in understanding the online privacy interests and held that:
“Privacy is admittedly a "broad and somewhat evanescent concept"...
[T]he Court has described three broad types of privacy interests -
territorial, personal, and informational - which, while often overlapping,
have proved helpful in identifying the nature of the privacy interest or
interests at stake in particular situations…”
The Court found that the nature of appellant’s privacy interest in subscriber
information relating to a computer used privately was primarily an informational
one and held:
“... the identity of a person linked to their use of the Internet must be
recognized as giving rise to a privacy interest beyond that inherent in
the person’s name, address and telephone number found in the
subscriber information.”
It then set out three key elements of informational privacy: privacy as secrecy,
privacy as control, and privacy as anonymity. It further emphasised on the
importance of anonymity in informational privacy, particularly in the age of the
Internet and held that:
“... anonymity may, depending on the totality of the circumstances, be
the foundation of a privacy interest that engages constitutional
protection against unreasonable search and seizure...”
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Though the Court stopped short of recognizing an absolute right to anonymity, it held
that “anonymous Internet activity engages a high level of informational privacy”. The
Court further held that:
“The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification
of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online,
usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous.
A request by a police officer that an ISP voluntarily disclose such
information amounts to a search.”
The Canadian Supreme Court has used provisions of the Charter to expand the
scope of the right to privacy, used traditionally to protect individuals from an invasion
of their property rights, to an individual’s “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The
right to privacy has been held to be more than just a physical right as it includes the
privacy in information about one’s identity. Informational privacy has frequently been
addressed under Section 8 of the Charter. Canadian privacy jurisprudence has
developed with the advent of technology and the internet. Judicial decisions have
significant implications for internet/digital privacy.
(v) Privacy under The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter
In Europe, there are two distinct but related frameworks to ensure the protection of
the right of privacy. The first is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),
an international agreement to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in
Europe. The second is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
(CFREU), a treaty enshrining certain political, social, and economic rights for the
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European Union. Under ECHR (“the Convention”), the European Court of Human
Rights (ECtHR), also known as the ‘Strasbourg Court’, is the adjudicating body, which
hears complaints by individuals on alleged breaches of human rights by signatory
states. Similarly, under CFREU (“the Charter), the Court of Justice of the European
Union (CJEU), also called the ‘Luxembourg Court’, is the chief judicial authority of the
European Union and oversees the uniform application and interpretation of European
Union law, in co-operation with the national judiciary of the member states.
Article 8 of the ECHR provides that:
“Right to respect for private and family life
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his
home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise
of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is
necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security,
public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the
prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals,
or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Under the Charter, the relevant provisions are:
Article 7
Respect for private and family life
Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life,
home and communications.
Article 8
Protection of personal data
1. Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning
him or her.
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2. Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on
the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other
legitimate basis laid down by law. Everyone has the right of access to
data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to
have it rectified.
3. Compliance with these rules shall be subject to control by an
independent authority.
Article 52
Scope of guaranteed rights
1. Any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised
by this Charter must be provided for by law and respect the essence of
those rights and freedoms. Subject to the principle of proportionality,
limitations may be made only if they are necessary and genuinely meet
objectives of general interests recognised by the Union of the need to
protect the rights and freedoms of others.
2. Rights recognised by this Charter which are based on the
Community Treaties or the Treaty on European Union shall be
exercised under the conditions and within the limits defined by those
Treaties.
3. In so far as this Charter contains rights which correspond to rights
guaranteed by the Convention of the Protection of Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms, the meaning and scope of those rights shall
be the same as those laid down by the said Convention. This provision
shall not prevent Union law providing more extensive protection.
Article 52(3) provides for the ECHR as a minimum standard of human rights in the
EU. Article 52(3) thus leads the EU to be indirectly bound by the ECHR as it must
always be obeyed when restricting fundamental rights in the EU. Moreover, in the preCharter
era, the protection of privacy was held to form part of the right to privacy in
line with how the ECtHR in Strasbourg interprets Art. 8 of ECHR till date288
.
288 In the case of J McB v LE, Case C-400/10 PPU, [2010] ECR I-nyr, the CJEU ruled that where Charter rights
paralleled ECHR rights, the Court of Justice should follow any consistent jurisprudence of the European Court of
Human Rights, elucidating that: “It is clear that the said Article 7 [of the EU Charter] contains rights corresponding
to those guaranteed by Article 8(1) of the ECHR. Article 7 of the Charter must therefore be given the same
meaning and the same scope as Article 8(1) of the ECHR...” Reference can be passed to a case before ECtHR,
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Thus, in order to understand the protection extended to the right to privacy in EU, the
jurisprudence of Article 8 of the Convention and Article 7 of the Charter need to be
analyzed. The term ‘private life’ is an essential ingredient of both these provisions and
has been interpreted to encompass a wide range of interests.
In the case of Niemietz v Germany289 (1992), the ECtHR observed that:
“The Court does not consider it possible or necessary to attempt an
exhaustive definition of the notion of "private life". However, it would be
too restrictive to limit the notion to an "inner circle" in which the
individual may live his own personal life as he chooses and to exclude
therefrom entirely the outside world not encompassed within that circle.
Respect for private life must also comprise to a certain degree the right
to establish and develop relationships with other human beings.”
Similarly, in Costello-Roberts v United Kingdom290 (1993), the ECtHR stated that
“the notion of "private life" is a broad one” and “is not susceptible to exhaustive
definition”.
This broad approach is also present in the recent cases of European jurisprudence.
In S and Marper v United Kingdom291 (2008), the ECtHR held, with respect to right
to respect for private life, that :
“...the concept of “private life”... covers the physical and psychological
integrity of a person... It can therefore embrace multiple aspects of the
person's physical and social identity... Elements such as, for example,
gender identification, name and sexual orientation and sexual life fall
within the personal sphere protected by Article 8... Beyond a person's
Varec SA v. État belge, Case C-450/06, [2008] ECR I-581, where it was observed that that: “...the right to respect
for private life, enshrined in Article 8 of the ECHR, which flows from the common constitutional traditions of the
Member States.... is restated in Article 7 of the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union”.
289 Application no. 13710/88, judgment dated 16 September 1992.
290 Application no. 13134/87, judgment dated 25 March 1993.
291 [2008] ECHR 1581
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name, his or her private and family life may include other means of
personal identification and of linking to a family... Information about the
person's health is an important element of private life... The Court
furthermore considers that an individual's ethnic identity must be
regarded as another such element... The concept of private life
moreover includes elements relating to a person's right to their
image…”
In Uzun v Germany292 (2010), the European Court of Human Rights while examining
an application claiming violation of Article 8 observed that:
“Article 8 protects, inter alia, a right to identity and personal
development, and the right to establish and develop relationships with
other human beings and the outside world. There is, therefore, a zone
of interaction of a person with others, even in a public context, which
may fall within the scope of “private life”...
There are a number of elements relevant to a consideration of whether
a person's private life is concerned by measures effected outside a
person's home or private premises. Since there are occasions when
people knowingly or intentionally involve themselves in activities which
are or may be recorded or reported in a public manner, a person's
reasonable expectations as to privacy may be a significant, although
not necessarily conclusive, factor…”
Thus, the determination of a complaint by an individual under Article 8 of the Convention
necessarily involves a two-stage test293, which can be summarized as below:
“Stage 1: Article 8 para. 1
1.1 Does the complaint fall within the scope of one of the rights
protected by Article 8 para 1?
1.2 If so, is there a positive obligation on the State to respect an
individual’s right and has it been fulfilled?
Stage 2: Article 8 para. 2
2.1 Has there been an interference with the Article 8 right?
2.2 If so,
292 Application No. 35623/05
293 Ursula Kilkelly, “The right to respect for private and family life: A guide to the implementation of Article 8 of the
European Convention on Human Rights”, Council of Europe (2001), at page 9
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2.2.1 is it in accordance with law?
2.2.2 does it pursue a legitimate aim?
2.2.3 is it necessary in a democratic society?
This test is followed by the Court each time it applies Article 8 in a
given case.”
In other words, a fair balance is struck between the general interest of the community
and the interests of the individual.
The Grand Chamber of 18 judges at the ECtHR, in S and Marper v United Kingdom
(supra), examined the claim of the applicants that their Right to Respect for Private
Life under Article 8 was being violated as their fingerprints, cell samples and DNA
profiles were retained in a database after successful termination of criminal
proceedings against them. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 8
of the Convention. Finding that the retention at issue had constituted a
disproportionate interference with the applicants’ right to respect for private life, the
Court held that “the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the
fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons...fails to strike a fair balance
between the competing public and private interests and that the respondent State has
overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation”. It was further held that:
“The mere storing of data relating to the private life of an individual
amounts to an interference within the meaning of Article 8. However,
in determining whether the personal information retained by the
authorities involves any of the private-life aspects mentioned above,
the Court will have due regard to the specific context in which the
information at issue has been recorded and retained, the nature of the
records, the way in which these records are used and processed and
the results that may be obtained.”
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Applying the above principles, it was held that:
“The Court notes at the outset that all three categories of the personal
information retained by the authorities in the present cases, namely
fingerprints, DNA profiles and cellular samples, constitute personal
data within the meaning of the Data Protection Convention as they
relate to identified or identifiable individuals. The Government accepted
that all three categories are “personal data” within the meaning of the
Data Protection Act 1998 in the hands of those who are able to identify
the individual.”
Regarding the retention of cellular samples and DNA profiles, it was held that:
“Given the nature and the amount of personal information contained in
cellular samples, their retention per se must be regarded as interfering
with the right to respect for the private lives of the individuals
concerned. That only a limited part of this information is actually
extracted or used by the authorities through DNA profiling and that no
immediate detriment is caused in a particular case does not change
this conclusion… [T]he DNA profiles' capacity to provide a means of
identifying genetic relationships between individuals… is in itself
sufficient to conclude that their retention interferes with the right to the
private life of the individuals concerned... The possibility the DNA
profiles create for inferences to be drawn as to ethnic origin makes their
retention all the more sensitive and susceptible of affecting the right to
private life.”
Regarding retention of fingerprints, it was held that:
“...fingerprints objectively contain unique information about the
individual concerned allowing his or her identification with precision in
a wide range of circumstances. They are thus capable of affecting his
or her private life and retention of this information without the consent
of the individual concerned cannot be regarded as neutral or
insignificant…”
In Uzun v Germany (supra), the ECtHR examined an application claiming violation of
Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights where the applicant’s data was
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obtained via the Global Positioning System (GPS) by the investigation agencies and
was used against him in a criminal proceeding. In this case, the applicant was
suspected of involvement in bomb attacks by the left-wing extremist movement. The
Court unanimously concluded that there had been no violation of Article 8 and held
as follows:
“GPS surveillance of Mr Uzun had been ordered to investigate several
counts of attempted murder for which a terrorist movement had claimed
responsibility and to prevent further bomb attacks. It therefore served
the interests of national security and public safety, the prevention of
crime and the protection of the rights of the victims. It had only been
ordered after less intrusive methods of investigation had proved
insufficient, for a relatively short period of time – three months – and it
had affected Mr Uzun only when he was travelling with his accomplice’s
car. Therefore, he could not be said to have been subjected to total and
comprehensive surveillance. Given that the investigation concerned
very serious crimes, the Court found that the GPS surveillance of Mr
Uzun had been proportionate.”
The decision of the CJEU in the case Asociación Nacional de Establecimientos
Financieros de Crédito (ASNEF) v Spain294 relied upon the Article 7 right to respect
for private life and Article 8(1) of the Charter to find that the implementation in Spain
of the Data Protection Directive was defective in that it applied only to information kept
in a specified public data bank rather than more generally to public and private
databases, on the basis that “the processing of data appearing in non-public sources
necessarily implies that information relating to the data subject’s private life will
thereafter be known by the data controller and, as the case may be, by the third party
or parties to whom the data is disclosed. This more serious infringement of the data
294 C-468/10, 24 November, [2011] ECR I-nyr
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subject’s rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter must be properly taken
into account”.
In Digital Rights Ireland Ltd v Minister295 (2014), the CJEU examined the validity of
a Data Protection Directive, which required telephone and internet service providers
to retain details of internet and call data for 6 to 24 months, as well as related data
necessary to identify the subscriber or user, so as to ensure that the data is available
for the purpose of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious
crimes. The Court ruled that the Directive is incompatible with Article 52(1) of the
Charter, because the limitations which the said Directive placed were “not
accompanied by the necessary principles for governing the guarantees needed to
regulate access to the data and their use”. It was held that:
“To establish the existence of an interference with the fundamental
right to privacy, it does not matter whether the information on the private
lives concerned is sensitive or whether the persons concerned have
been inconvenienced in any way.”
While stating that data relating to the use of electronic communications is particularly
important and therefore a valuable tool in the prevention of offences and the fight
against crime, in particular organised crime, the Court looked into the proportionality
of the interference with the right to privacy and held that:
“As regards the necessity for the retention of data required by Directive
2006/24, it must be held that the fight against serious crime, in
particular against organised crime and terrorism, is indeed of the
utmost importance in order to ensure public security and its
295 C-293/12
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effectiveness may depend to a great extent on the use of modern
investigation techniques. However, such an objective of general
interest, however fundamental it may be, does not, in itself, justify a
retention measure such as that established by Directive 2006/24 being
considered to be necessary for the purpose of that fight...”
Highlighting that the said Directive does not provide for sufficient safeguards, it was
held that by adopting the Directive, the EU “exceeded the limits imposed by
compliance with the principle of proportionality in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of
the Charter.”
In RE v The United Kingdom296 (2015), the applicant was arrested and detained on
three occasions in relation to the murder of a police officer. He claimed violation of
Article 8 under the regime of covert surveillance of consultations between detainees
and their lawyers, medical advisors and appropriate adults297 sanctioned by the
existing law. The ECtHR held that:
“The Court…considers that the surveillance of a legal consultation
constitutes an extremely high degree of intrusion into a person’s right
to respect for his or her private life and correspondence...
Consequently, in such cases it will expect the same safeguards to be
in place to protect individuals from arbitrary interference with their
Article 8 rights...
Surveillance of “appropriate adult”-detainee consultations were not
subject to legal privilege and therefore a detainee would not have the
same expectation of privacy.…The relevant domestic provisions,
insofar as they related to the possible surveillance of consultations
between detainees and “appropriate adults”, were accompanied by
“adequate safeguards against abuse”, notably as concerned the
authorisation, review and record keeping. Hence, there is no violation
of Article 8.”
296 Application No. 62498/11
297 As per the facts of the case, an “appropriate adults” could be a relative or guardian, or a person experienced
in dealing with mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable people.
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In Roman Zakharov v Russia298 (2015), ECtHR examined an application claiming
violation of Article 8 of the Convention alleging that the mobile operators had permitted
unrestricted interception of all telephone communications by the security services
without prior judicial authorisation, under the prevailing national law. The Court
observed that:
“Mr Zakharov was entitled to claim to be a victim of a violation of the
European Convention, even though he was unable to allege that he
had been the subject of a concrete measure of surveillance. Given the
secret nature of the surveillance measures provided for by the
legislation, their broad scope (affecting all users of mobile telephone
communications) and the lack of effective means to challenge them at
national level… Russian law did not meet the “quality of law”
requirement and was incapable of keeping the interception of
communications to what was “necessary in a democratic society”.
There had accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.”
Both the ECtHR and the CJEU, while dealing with the application and interpretation
of Article 8 of ECHR and Article 7 of the Charter, have kept a balanced approached
between individual interests and societal interests. The two-step test in examining an
individual claim related to a Convention right has strictly been followed by ECtHR.
(vi) Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights deals with the Right to
Privacy. The provision is extracted below:
“1. Everyone has the right to have his honor respected and his dignity
recognized.
298 Application No. 47143/06
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2. No one may be the object of arbitrary or abusive interference with his
private life, his family, his home, or his correspondence, or of unlawful
attacks on his honor or reputation.
3. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such
interference or attacks.”
The decision in Artavia Murillo ET AL. (“In Vitro Fertilization”) v Costa Rica299
(2012), addressed the question of whether the State’s prohibition on the practice of in
vitro fertilisation constituted an arbitrary interference with the right to private life. The
Court held that:
“The scope of the protection of the right to private life has been
interpreted in broad terms by the international human rights
courts, when indicating that this goes beyond the right to privacy.
The protection of private life encompasses a series of factors
associated with the dignity of the individual, including, for
example, the ability to develop his or her own personality and
aspirations, to determine his or her own identity and to define
his or her own personal relationships. The concept of private
life encompasses aspects of physical and social identity,
including the right to personal autonomy, personal
development and the right to establish and develop
relationships with other human beings and with the outside
world. The effective exercise of the right to private life is
decisive for the possibility of exercising personal autonomy on
the future course of relevant events for a person’s quality of
life. Private life includes the way in which individual views
himself and how he decides to project this view towards
others, and is an essential condition for the free development
of the personality… Furthermore, the Court has indicated that
motherhood is an essential part of the free development of a
woman’s personality. Based on the foregoing, the Court considers
that the decision of whether or not to become a parent is part of the
right to private life and includes, in this case, the decision of whether
or not to become a mother or father in the genetic or biological
sense.” (emphasis supplied)
299 Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (Ser. C) No. 257
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In Escher et al v Brazil300 (2009), telephonic interception and monitoring of telephonic
lines was carried out by the military police of the State between April and June 1999.
The Court found that the State violated the American Convention on Human Rights
and held that:
“Article 11 applies to telephone conversations irrespective of their
content and can even include both the technical operations
designed to record this content by taping it and listening to it, or any
other element of the communication process; for example, the
destination or origin of the calls that are made, the identity of the
speakers, the frequency, time and duration of the calls, aspects that
can be verified without the need to record the content of the call by
taping the conversation…
Article 11 of the Convention recognizes that every person has the
right to respect for his honor, prohibits an illegal attack against honor
and reputation, and imposes on the States the obligation to provide
legal protection against such attacks. In general, the right to honor
relates to self-esteem and self-worth, while reputation refers to the
opinion that others have of a person…
[O]wing to the inherent danger of abuse in any monitoring system,
this measure must be based on especially precise legislation with
clear, detailed rules. The American Convention protects the
confidentiality and inviolability of communications from any kind of
arbitrary or abusive interference from the State or individuals;
consequently, the surveillance, intervention, recording and
dissemination of such communications is prohibited, except in the
cases established by law that are adapted to the objects and
purposes of the American Convention.”
Like other international jurisdictions, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights dealt
with the concept of privacy and private life in broad terms which enhance the value
of liberty and freedom.
300 Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (Ser. C) No. 200
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The development of the law on privacy in these jurisdictions has drawn sustenance from
the importance and sanctity attributed to individual freedom and liberty. Constitutions
which, like the Indian Constitution, contain entrenched rights place the dignity of the
individual on a high pedestal. Despite cultural differences and disparate histories, a
study of comparative law provides reassurance that the path which we have charted
accords with a uniform respect for human values in the constitutional culture of the
jurisdictions which we have analysed. These values are universal and of enduring
character.
L Criticisms of the privacy doctrine
135 The Attorney General for India, leading the arguments before this Court on
behalf of Union of India, has been critical of the recognition being given to a general
right of privacy. The submission has several facets, among them being:
(i) there is no general or fundamental right to privacy under the Constitution;
(ii) no blanket right to privacy can be read as part of the fundamental rights and
where some of the constituent facets of privacy are already covered by the
enumerated guarantees in Part III, those facets will be protected in any case;
(iii) where specific species of privacy are governed by the protection of liberty in
Part III of the Constitution, they are subject to reasonable restrictions in the
public interest as recognized in several decisions of this Court ;
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(iv) privacy is a concept which does not have any specific meaning or definition
and the expression is inchoate; and
(v) the draftsmen of the Constitution specifically did not include such a right as
part of the chapter on fundamental rights and even the ambit of the expression
liberty which was originally sought to be used in the draft Constitution was
pruned to personal liberty. These submissions have been buttressed by Mr
Aryama Sundaram, learned senior counsel.
136 Criticism and critique lie at the core of democratic governance. Tolerance of
dissent is equally a cherished value. In deciding a case of such significant dimensions,
the Court must factor in the criticisms voiced both domestically and internationally.
These, as we notice, are based on academic, philosophical and practical
considerations.
137 The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy adverts to “several sceptical and
critical accounts of privacy”. The criticism is set out thus:
“There are several sceptical and critical accounts of privacy.
According to one well known argument there is no right to privacy
and there is nothing special about privacy, because any interest
protected as private can be equally well explained and protected by
other interests or rights, most notably rights to property and bodily
security (Thomson, 1975). Other critiques argue that privacy
interests are not distinctive because the personal interests they
protect are economically inefficient (Posner, 1981) or that they are
not grounded in any adequate legal doctrine (Bork, 1990). Finally,
there is the feminist critique of privacy, that granting special status
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to privacy is detrimental to women and others because it is used as
a shield to dominate and control them, silence them, and cover up
abuse (MacKinnon, 1989).”301
138 In a 2013 article published in the Harvard Law Review, a professor of law at
Georgetown Law Center, Georgetown University, described privacy as having an
“image problem”302. Privacy, as she notes, has been cast as “old-fashioned at best
and downright harmful at worst - anti-progressive, overly costly, and inimical to the
welfare of the body politic”303. The consequences in her view are predictable:
“…when privacy and its purportedly outdated values must be
balanced against the cutting-edge imperatives of national security,
efficiency, and entrepreneurship, privacy comes up the loser. The
list of privacy counterweights is long and growing. The recent
additions of social media, mobile platforms, cloud computing, data
mining, and predictive analytics now threaten to tip the scales
entirely, placing privacy in permanent opposition to the progress of
knowledge.”304
The article proceeds to explain that the perception of privacy as antiquated and
socially retrograde is wrong. Nonetheless, this criticism has relevance to India. The
nation aspires to move to a knowledge based economy. Information is the basis of
knowledge. The scales must, according to this critique, tip in favour of the paramount
national need for knowledge, innovation and development. These concerns cannot
be discarded and must be factored in. They are based on the need to provide
economic growth and social welfare to large swathes of an impoverished society.
301 “Privacy” , Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2002) , available at
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/privacy/
302 Julie E Cohen, “What Privacy Is For”, Harvard Law Review (2013), Vol. 126, at page 1904
303 Ibid
304 Ibid, at pages 1904-1905.
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139 Another criticism, which is by Robert Bork, questions the choice of
fundamental values of the Constitution by judges of the US Supreme Court and the
theory (propounded by Justice Douglas in Griswold) of the existence of ‘penumbras’
or zones of privacy created by the Bill of Rights as a leap of judicial interpretation.305
140 The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy seeks to offer an understanding
of the literature on privacy in terms of two concepts: reductionism and coherentism.306
Reductionists are generally critical of privacy while the Coherentists defend
fundamental values of privacy interests. The criticisms of privacy have been broadly
summarised as consisting of the following :
a Thomson’s Reductionism307
Judith Jarvis Thomson, in an article published in 1975, noted that while there is little
agreement on the content of privacy, ultimately privacy is a cluster of rights which
overlap with property rights or the right to bodily security. In her view, the right to
privacy is derivative in the sense that a privacy violation is better understood as
violation of a more basic right.
305 For this criticism, see : Robert H Bork, “Neutral Principles and some First Amendment Problems”, Indiana
Law Journal (Fall 1971), Vol. 47(1), at pages 8-9
306 Supra note 301
307 Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy” , Philosophy and Public Affairs (1975), Vol. 4, at pages 295-
314, as cited in Supra note 301
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b Posner’s Economic critique308
Richard Posner, in ‘the Economics of Justice’ published in 1981, argued that
privacy is protected in ways that are economically inefficient. In his view, privacy
should be protected only when access to information would reduce its value such as
when a student is allowed access to a letter of recommendation for admission,
rendering such a letter less reliable. According to Posner, privacy when manifested
as control over information about oneself, is utilised to mislead or manipulate others.
c Bork’s critique
Robert Bork, in ‘The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law’
309
,
has been severe in his criticism of the protection of privacy by the US Supreme Court.
In his view, Justice Douglas in Griswold did not derive privacy from some pre-existing
right but sought to create a new right which has no foundation in the Bill of Rights,
thereby overstepping the bounds of a judge by making new law and not by interpreting
it.
Many theorists urge that the constitutional right to privacy is more correctly regarded
as a right to liberty.
The powerful counter argument to these criticisms is that while individuals possess
multiple liberties under the Constitution, read in isolation, many of them are not related
to the kinds of concerns that emerge in privacy issues. In this view, liberty is a concept
308 Richard Posner, The Economics of Justice, Harvard University Press (1981), as cited in Supra note 301
309 Robert Bork, The Tempting of America : The Political Seduction of the Law, Simon and Schuster (1990), as
cited in Supra note 301
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which is broader than privacy and issues or claims relating to privacy are a sub-set of
claims to liberty.310 Hence it has been argued that privacy protects liberty and that
“privacy protection gains for us the freedom to define ourselves and our relations to
others”311. This rationale understands the relationship between liberty and privacy by
stipulating that while liberty is a broader notion, privacy is essential for protecting
liberty. Recognizing a constitutional right to privacy is a reaffirmation of the individual
interest in making certain decisions crucial to one’s personality and being.
d Feminist critique
Many writers on feminism express concern over the use of privacy as a veneer for
patriarchal domination and abuse of women. Patriarchal notions still prevail in several
societies including our own and are used as a shield to violate core constitutional
rights of women based on gender and autonomy. As a result, gender violence is often
treated as a matter of “family honour” resulting in the victim of violence suffering twice
over – the physical and mental trauma of her dignity being violated and the perception
that it has cause an affront to “honour”. Privacy must not be utilised as a cover to
conceal and assert patriarchal mindsets.
Catherine MacKinnon in a 1989 publication titled ‘Towards a Feminist Theory of
the State’
312 adverts to the dangers of privacy when it is used to cover up physical
harm done to women by perpetrating their subjection. Yet, it must also be noticed
310 Supra note 301
311 Ibid
312 Catherine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Harvard University Press (1989), as cited in
Supra note 301
PART L
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that women have an inviolable interest in privacy. Privacy is the ultimate guarantee
against violations caused by programmes not unknown to history, such as state
imposed sterilization programmes or mandatory state imposed drug testing for
women. The challenge in this area is to enable the state to take the violation of the
dignity of women in the domestic sphere seriously while at the same time protecting
the privacy entitlements of women grounded in the identity of gender and liberty.
141 The submission that privacy has no accepted or defined connotation can be
analysed with reference to the evolution of the concept in the literature on the subject.
Some of the leading approaches which should be considered for an insight into the
ambit and content of privacy:
(i) Alan Westin313 defined four basic states of privacy which reflect on the nature
and extent of the involvement of the individual in the public sphere. At the core is
solitude – the most complete state of privacy involving the individual in an “inner
dialogue with the mind and conscience”.314 The second state is the state of intimacy
which refers not merely to intimate relations between spouses or partners but also
between family, friends and colleagues. The third state is of anonymity where an
individual seeks freedom from identification despite being in a public space. The
fourth state is described as a state of reservation which is expressed as “the need to
313 Westin’s categorization of privacy is based on the specific values which it sub-serves. Westin has drawn
support from the distinction made in 1960 by William L. Prosser for the purposes of civil privacy violations or
torts, Westin adopted a value based approach, unlike the harms based approach of Prosser. For Prosser’s
work, see William L. Prosser, “Privacy”, California Law Review (1960), Vol. 48(3), pages 383-423.
314 Bert-Jaap Koops et al., “A Typology of Privacy”, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law (2017),
Vol. 38, Issue 2, at page 496
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hold some aspects of ourselves back from others, either as too personal and sacred
or as too shameful and profane to express”315
.
(ii) Roger Clarke has developed a classification of privacy on Maslow’s pyramid
of values316
. The values described in Maslow’s pyramid are: self-actualization, selfesteem,
love or belonging, safety and physiological or biological need. Clarke’s
categories include (a) privacy of the person also known as bodily privacy. Bodily
privacy is violated by compulsory extraction of samples of body fluids and body tissue
and compulsory sterilization; (b) privacy of personal behaviour which is part of a
private space including the home; (c) Privacy of personal communications which is
expressed as the freedom of communication without interception or routine monitoring
of one’s communication by others; (d) Privacy of personal data which is linked to the
concept of informational privacy.
(iii) Anita Allen has, in a 2011 publication, developed the concept of “unpopular
privacy”317. According to her, governments must design “unpopular” privacy laws and
duties to protect the common good, even if privacy is being forced on individuals who
may not want it. Individuals under this approach are not permitted to waive their
privacy rights. Among the component elements which she notices are : (a) physical
or spatial privacy – illustrated by the privacy in the home; (b) informational privacy
including information data or facts about persons or their communications; (c)
315 Ibid, at page 497
316 Ibid, at 498
317
Ibid, at 500
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decisional privacy which protects the right of citizens to make intimate choices about
their rights from intrusion by the State; (d) proprietary privacy which relates to the
protection of one’s reputation; (e) associational privacy which protects the right of
groups with certain defined characteristics to determine whom they may include or
exclude.318
Privacy has distinct connotations including (i) spatial control; (ii) decisional autonomy;
and (iii) informational control.319 Spatial control denotes the creation of private spaces.
Decisional autonomy comprehends intimate personal choices such as those
governing reproduction as well as choices expressed in public such as faith or modes
of dress. Informational control empowers the individual to use privacy as a shield to
retain personal control over information pertaining to the person. With regard to
informational privacy, it has been stated that :
“…perhaps the most convincing conception is proposed by Helen
Nissenbaum who argues that privacy is the expectation that
information about a person will be treated appropriately. This
theory of “contextual integrity” believes people do not want to
control their information or become inaccessible as much as they
want their information to be treated in accordance with their
expectation (Nissenbaum 2004, 2010, 2011).”
320
Integrated together, the fundamental notions of privacy have been depicted in a
seminal article published in 2017 titled “A Typology of privacy”
321 in the University
318 Ibid, at pages 500-501
319
Bhairav Acharya, “The Four Parts of Privacy in India”, Economic & Political Weekly (2015), Vol. 50 Issue 22,
at page 32
320 Ibid, at page 34
321 Bert-Jaap Koops et al., “A Typology of Privacy”, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law (2017),
Vol. 38 Issue 2, at page 566
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of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law. The article contains an excellent visual
depiction of privacy, which is presented in the following format :
142 The above diagrammatical representation presents two primary axes: a
horizontal axis consisting of four zones of privacy and a vertical axis which
emphasises two aspects of freedom: the freedom to be let alone and the freedom for
self-development. The nine primary types of privacy are, according to the above
depiction: (i) bodily privacy which reflects the privacy of the physical body. Implicit in
this is the negative freedom of being able to prevent others from violating one’s body
or from restraining the freedom of bodily movement; (ii) spatial privacy which is
reflected in the privacy of a private space through which access of others can be
restricted to the space; intimate relations and family life are an apt illustration of spatial
privacy; (iii) communicational privacy which is reflected in enabling an individual to
(emphasis
on)
Freedom
to be let
alone”
(emphasis on)
Freedom to
“selfdevelopment”
personal
zone
intimate
zone
semi-private
zone
“secrecy”
public zone
“inconspicuousness”
behavioural
privacy
associational
privacy
decisional
privacy
intellectual
privacy
bodily privacy spatial privacy
communicational
Privacy
proprietary
Privacy
in f orm at io n a l p r iva c y
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restrict access to communications or control the use of information which is
communicated to third parties; (iv) proprietary privacy which is reflected by the interest
of a person in utilising property as a means to shield facts, things or information from
others; (v) intellectual privacy which is reflected as an individual interest in the privacy
of thought and mind and the development of opinions and beliefs; (vi) decisional
privacy reflected by an ability to make intimate decisions primarily consisting one’s
sexual or procreative nature and decisions in respect of intimate relations; (vii)
associational privacy which is reflected in the ability of the individual to choose who
she wishes to interact with; (viii) behavioural privacy which recognises the privacy
interests of a person even while conducting publicly visible activities. Behavioural
privacy postulates that even when access is granted to others, the individual is entitled
to control the extent of access and preserve to herself a measure of freedom from
unwanted intrusion; and (ix) informational privacy which reflects an interest in
preventing information about the self from being disseminated and controlling the
extent of access to information.
M Constituent Assembly and privacy: limits of originalist interpretation
143 The founding fathers of the Constitution, it has been urged, rejected the notion
of privacy being a fundamental right. Hence it has been submitted that it would be
outside the realm of constitutional adjudication for the Court to declare a fundamental
right to privacy. The argument merits close consideration.
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144 On 17 March 1947, K M Munshi submitted Draft articles on the fundamental
rights and duties of citizens to the Sub-committee on fundamental rights. Among the
rights of freedom proposed in clause 5 were the following322 :
“…(f) the right to the inviolability of his home,
(g) the right to the secrecy of his correspondence,
(h) the right to maintain his person secure by the law of the Union
from exploitation in any manner contrary to law or public authority…”
145 On 24 March 1947, Dr Ambedkar submitted a Memorandum and Draft articles
on the rights of states and minorities. Among the draft articles on fundamental rights
of citizens was the following323 :
“…10. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall
not be violated and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause,
supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place
to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized…”
146 The draft report of the Sub-committee submitted on 3 April 1947 contained a
division between the fundamental rights into justiciable and non-justiciable rights.
Clause 9(d) and Clause 10 provided as follows324 :
“9(d) The right of every citizen to the secrecy of his
correspondence. Provision may be made by law to regulate
the interception or detention of articles and messages in
course of transmission by post, telegraph or otherwise on
the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interests
of public safety or tranquillity…
322 B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution, Indian Institute of Public Administration (1967), Vol. 2, at
page 75
323 Ibid, at page 87
324 Ibid, at page 139
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10. The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches
and seizures, shall not be violated and no warrants shall
issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
searched, and the persons or things to be seized”
147 Dr B N Rau in his notes on the draft report had reservations about clause 10
which were expressed thus325:
“Clause 10. If this means that there is to be no search without a
court’s warrant, it may seriously affect the powers of investigation
of the police. Under the existing law, eg., Criminal Procedure Code,
section 165 (relevant extracts given below), the police have certain
important powers. Often in the course of investigation, a police
officer gets information that stolen property has been secreted in a
certain place. If he searches it at once, as he can at present, there
is a chance of his recovering it; but he has to apply for a court’s
warrant, giving full details, the delay involved, under Indian
conditions of distance and lack of transport in the interior may be
fatal.”
A note was submitted by Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer on 10 April 1947 objecting to
the ‘secrecy of correspondence’ mentioned in clause 9(d) and the protection against
unreasonable searches in clause 10326 :
“Clause (d). In regard to secrecy of correspondence I raised a point
during the discussions that it need not find a place in chapter on
fundamental rights and it had better be left to the protection afforded
by the ordinary law of the land contained in the various enactments.
There is no such right in the American Constitution. Such a
provision finds a place only in the post-First World War
constitutions. The effect of the clauses upon the sections of the
Indian Evidence Act bearing upon privilege will have to be
considered. Restrictions -vide chapter 9, s 120-127. The result of
325 Ibid, at page 152
326 Ibid, at pages 158-159
PART M
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this clause will be that every private correspondence will assume
the rank of a State paper, or, in the language of s. 123 and 124, a
record relating to the affairs of State.
A clause like this might checkmate the prosecution in establishing
any case of conspiracy or abetment, the plaintiff being helpless to
prove the same by placing before the court the correspondence that
passed between the parties which in all these cases would furnish
the most material evidence. The opening words of the clause
“public order and morality” would not be of any avail in such cases.
On a very careful consideration of the whole subject I feel that
inclusion of such a clause in the chapter on fundamental rights will
lead to endless complications and difficulties in the administration
of justice. It will be for the committee to consider whether a
reconsideration of the clause is called for in the above
circumstances.
Clause 10. Unreasonable searches, In regard to this subject I
pointed out the difference between the conditions obtaining in
America at the time when the American Constitution was drafted
and the conditions in India obtaining at present after the provisions
of the Criminal Procedure Code in this behalf have been in force for
nearly a century. The effect of the clause, as it is, will be to abrogate
some of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and to leave
it to the Supreme Court in particular cases to decide whether the
search is reasonable or unreasonable. While I am averse to
reagitating the matter I think it may not be too late for the committee
to consider this particular clause.”
During the course of the comments and suggestions on the draft Constitution, Jaya
Prakash Narayan suggested the inclusion of the secrecy of postal, telegraphic and
telephonic communications. Such an inclusion was, however, objected to on the
following grounds327 :
“…It is also hardly necessary to include secrecy of postal,
telegraphic and telephonic communications as a fundamental right
in the Constitution itself as that might lead to practical difficulties in
327 B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, Indian Institute of Public Administration (1968), at
pages 219-220
PART M
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the administration of the posts and telegraph department. The
relevant laws enacted by the Legislature on the subject (the Indian
Post Office Act, 1898 and the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885) permit
interception of communications sent through post, telegraph or
telephone only in specified circumstances, such as, on the
occurrence of an emergency and in the interests of public safety.”
Eventually, clause 9(d) and clause 10 were dropped from the chapter dealing with
fundamental rights.
148 This discussion would indicate that there was a debate during the course of the
drafting of the Constitution on the proposal to guarantee to every citizen the right to
secrecy of correspondence in clause 9(d) and the protection to be secure against
unreasonable searches and seizures in their persons houses, papers and assets. The
objection to clause 9(d) was set out in the note of dissent of Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy
Iyer and it was his view that the guarantee of secrecy of correspondence may lead to
every private correspondence becoming a state paper. There was also a feeling that
this would affect the prosecution especially in cases of conspiracy or abetment.
Similarly, his objection to clause 10 was that it would abrogate some of the provisions
of the Code of Criminal Procedure. B N Rau likewise stated that this would seriously
affect the powers of investigation of the police. The clause protecting the secrecy of
correspondence was thus dropped on the ground that it would constitute a serious
impediment in prosecutions while the protection against unreasonable searches and
seizures was deleted on the ground that there were provisions in the Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1898 covering the area. The debates of the Constituent Assembly indicate
PART M
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that the proposed inclusion (which was eventually dropped) was in two specific areas
namely correspondence and searches and seizures. From this, it cannot be concluded
that the Constituent Assembly had expressly resolved to reject the notion of the right
to privacy as an integral element of the liberty and freedoms guaranteed by the
fundamental rights.
149 The Constitution has evolved over time, as judicial interpretation, led to the
recognition of specific interests and entitlements. These have been subsumed within
the freedoms and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Article 21 has been
interpreted by this Court to mean that life does not mean merely a physical existence.
It includes all those faculties by which life is enjoyed. The ambit of ‘the procedure
established by law’ has been interpreted to mean that the procedure must be fair, just
and reasonable. The coalescence of Articles 14, 19 and 21 has brought into being a
jurisprudence which recognises the inter-relationship between rights. That is how the
requirements of fairness and non-discrimination animate both the substantive and
procedural aspects of Article 21. These constitutional developments have taken place
as the words of the Constitution have been interpreted to deal with new exigencies
requiring an expansive reading of liberties and freedoms to preserve human rights
under the rule of law. India’s brush with a regime of the suspension of life and personal
liberty in the not too distant past is a grim reminder of how tenuous liberty can be, if
the judiciary is not vigilant. The interpretation of the Constitution cannot be frozen by
its original understanding. The Constitution has evolved and must continuously evolve
PART M
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to meet the aspirations and challenges of the present and the future. Nor can judges
foresee every challenge and contingency which may arise in the future. This is
particularly of relevance in an age where technology reshapes our fundamental
understanding of information, knowledge and human relationships that was unknown
even in the recent past. Hence as Judges interpreting the Constitution today, the
Court must leave open the path for succeeding generations to meet the challenges to
privacy that may be unknown today.
150 The impact of the decision in Cooper is to establish a link between the
fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. The immediate
consequence of the decision is that a law which restricts the personal liberties
contained in Article 19 must meet the test of permissible restrictions contemplated by
Clauses 2 to 6 in relation to the fundamental freedom which is infringed. Moreover,
since the fundamental rights are inter-related, Article 21 is no longer to be construed
as a residue of rights which are not specifically enumerated in Article 19. Both sets
of rights overlap and hence a law which affects one of the personal freedoms under
Article 19 would, in addition to the requirement of meeting the permissible restrictions
contemplated in clauses 2 to 6, have to meet the parameters of a valid ‘procedure
established by law’ under Article 21 where it impacts on life or personal liberty. The
law would be assessed not with reference to its object but on the basis of its effect
and impact on the fundamental rights. Coupled with the breakdown of the theory that
the fundamental rights are water-tight compartments, the post Maneka jurisprudence
infused the test of fairness and reasonableness in determining whether the ‘procedure
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established by law’ passes muster under Article 21. At a substantive level, the
constitutional values underlying each article in the Chapter on fundamental rights
animate the meaning of the others. This development of the law has followed a natural
evolution. The basis of this development after all is that every aspect of the diverse
guarantees of fundamental rights deals with human beings. Every element together
with others contributes in the composition of the human personality. In the very nature
of things, no element can be read in a manner disjunctive from the composite whole.
The close relationship between each of the fundamental rights has led to the
recognition of constitutional entitlements and interests. Some of them may straddle
more than one, and on occasion several, fundamental rights. Yet others may reflect
the core value upon which the fundamental rights are founded. Even at the birth of
the Constitution, the founding fathers recognised in the Constituent Assembly that, for
instance, the freedom of speech and expression would comprehend the freedom of
the press. Hence the guarantee of free speech and expression has been interpreted
to extend to the freedom of the press. Recognition of the freedom of the press does
not create by judicial fiat, a new fundamental right but is an acknowledgment of that,
which lies embedded and without which the guarantee of free speech and expression
would not be complete. Similarly, Article 21 has been interpreted to include a
spectrum of entitlements such as a right to a clean environment, the right to public
health, the right to know, the right to means of communication and the right to
education, besides a panoply of rights in the context of criminal law and procedure in
matters such as handcuffing and speedy trial. The rights which have been held to flow
out of Article 21 include the following:
PART M
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(i) The right to go abroad – Satwant Singh Sawhney v D Ramarathnam APO
New Delhi 328
.
(ii) The right against solitary confinement – Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration329
.
(iii) The right of prisoners against bar fetters – Charles Sobraj v Supdt. Central
Jail330
.
(iv) The right to legal aid – M H Hoskot v State of Maharashtra331
.
(v) The right to speedy trial – Hussainara Khatoon v Home Secretary, State of
Bihar332
.
(vi) The right against handcuffing – Prem Shankar Shukla v Delhi
Administration333
.
(vii) The right against custodial violence – Sheela Barse v State of Maharashtra334
.
(viii) The right against public hanging – A G of India v Lachma Devi335
.
(ix) Right to doctor’s assistance at government hospitals – Paramanand Katara v
Union of India336
.
(x) Right to shelter – Shantistar Builders v N K Totame337
.
(xi) Right to a healthy environment – Virender Gaur v State of Haryana338
.
(xii) Right to compensation for unlawful arrest – Rudal Sah v State of Bihar339
.
328 (1967) 3 SCR 525
329 (1978) 4 SCC 494
330 (1978) 4 SCC 104
331 (1978) 3 SCC 544
332 (1980) 1 SCC 81
333 (1980) 3 SCC 526
334 (1983) 2 SCC 96
335 (1989) Suppl.(1) SCC 264
336 (1989) 4 SCC 286
337 (1990) 1 SCC 520
338 (1995) 2 SCC 577
339 (1983) 4 SCC 141
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(xiii) Right to freedom from torture – Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration340
.
(xiv) Right to reputation – Umesh Kumar v State of Andhra Pradesh341
.
(xv) Right to earn a livelihood – Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation342
.
Neither is this an exercise in constitutional amendment brought about by judicial
decision nor does it result in the creation of a new set of fundamental rights. The
exercise has been one of interpreting existing rights guaranteed by the Constitution
and while understanding the core of those rights, to define the ambit of what the right
comprehends.
151 The draftsmen of the Constitution had a sense of history both global and
domestic– as they attempted to translate their vision of freedom into guarantees
against authoritarian behaviour. The Constitution adopted a democratic form of
government based on the rule of law. The framers were conscious of the widespread
abuse of human rights by authoritarian regimes in the two World Wars separated over
a period of two decades. The framers were equally conscious of the injustice suffered
under a colonial regime and more recently of the horrors of partition. The backdrop
of human suffering furnished a reason to preserve a regime of governance based on
the rule of law which would be subject to democratic accountability against a violation
of fundamental freedoms. The content of the fundamental rights evolved over the
340(1978) 4 SCC 494
341 (2013) 10 SCC 591
342 (1985) 3 SCC 545
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course of our constitutional history and any discussion of the issues of privacy,
together with its relationship with liberty and dignity, would be incomplete without a
brief reference to the course of history as it unravels in precedent. By guaranteeing
the freedoms and liberties embodied in the fundamental rights, the Constitution has
preserved natural rights and ring-fenced them from attempts to attenuate their
existence.
Technology, as we experience it today is far different from what it was in the lives of
the generation which drafted the Constitution. Information technology together with
the internet and the social media and all their attendant applications have rapidly
altered the course of life in the last decade. Today’s technology renders models of
application of a few years ago obsolescent. Hence, it would be an injustice both to the
draftsmen of the Constitution as well as to the document which they sanctified to
constrict its interpretation to an originalist interpretation. Today’s problems have to be
adjudged by a vibrant application of constitutional doctrine and cannot be frozen by a
vision suited to a radically different society. We describe the Constitution as a living
instrument simply for the reason that while it is a document which enunciates eternal
values for Indian society, it possesses the resilience necessary to ensure its continued
relevance. Its continued relevance lies precisely in its ability to allow succeeding
generations to apply the principles on which it has been founded to find innovative
solutions to intractable problems of their times. In doing so, we must equally
understand that our solutions must continuously undergo a process of re-engineering.
PART N
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N Is the statutory protection to privacy reason to deny a constitutional right?
152 The Union government and some of the States which have supported it have
urged this Court that there is a statutory regime by virtue of which the right to privacy
is adequately protected and hence it is not necessary to read a constitutional right to
privacy into the fundamental rights. This submission is sought to be fortified by
contending that privacy is merely a common law right and the statutory protection is
a reflection of that position.
153 The submission betrays lack of understanding of the reason why rights are
protected in the first place as entrenched guarantees in a Bill of Rights or, as in the
case of the Indian Constitution, as part of the fundamental rights. Elevating a right to
the position of a constitutionally protected right places it beyond the pale of legislative
majorities. When a constitutional right such as the right to equality or the right to life
assumes the character of being a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, it
assumes inviolable status: inviolability even in the face of the power of amendment.
Ordinary legislation is not beyond the pale of legislative modification. A statutory right
can be modified, curtailed or annulled by a simple enactment of the legislature. In
other words, statutory rights are subject to the compulsion of legislative majorities.
The purpose of infusing a right with a constitutional element is precisely to provide it
a sense of immunity from popular opinion and, as its reflection, from legislative
annulment. Constitutionally protected rights embody the liberal belief that personal
liberties of the individual are so sacrosanct that it is necessary to ensconce them in a
PART O
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protective shell that places them beyond the pale of ordinary legislation. To negate a
constitutional right on the ground that there is an available statutory protection is to
invert constitutional theory. As a matter of fact, legislative protection is in many cases,
an acknowledgment and recognition of a constitutional right which needs to be
effectuated and enforced through protective laws.
For instance, the provisions of Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005
which contain an exemption from the disclosure of information refer to such
information which would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the
individual.
But the important point to note is that when a right is conferred with an entrenched
constitutional status in Part III, it provides a touchstone on which the validity of
executive decision making can be assessed and the validity of law can be determined
by judicial review. Entrenched constitutional rights provide the basis of evaluating the
validity of law. Hence, it would be plainly unacceptable to urge that the existence of
law negates the rationale for a constitutional right or renders the constitutional right
unnecessary.
O Not an elitist construct
154 The Attorney General argued before us that the right to privacy must be
forsaken in the interest of welfare entitlements provided by the State. In our view, the
submission that the right to privacy is an elitist construct which stands apart from the
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needs and aspirations of the large majority constituting the rest of society, is
unsustainable. This submission betrays a misunderstanding of the constitutional
position. Our Constitution places the individual at the forefront of its focus,
guaranteeing civil and political rights in Part III and embodying an aspiration for
achieving socio- economic rights in Part IV. The refrain that the poor need no civil
and political rights and are concerned only with economic well-being has been utilised
though history to wreak the most egregious violations of human rights. Above all, it
must be realised that it is the right to question, the right to scrutinize and the right to
dissent which enables an informed citizenry to scrutinize the actions of government.
Those who are governed are entitled to question those who govern, about the
discharge of their constitutional duties including in the provision of socio-economic
welfare benefits. The power to scrutinize and to reason enables the citizens of a
democratic polity to make informed decisions on basic issues which govern their
rights. The theory that civil and political rights are subservient to socio-economic rights
has been urged in the past and has been categorically rejected in the course of
constitutional adjudication by this Court.
155 Civil and political rights and socio-economic rights do not exist in a state of
antagonism. The conditions necessary for realising or fulfilling socio-economic rights
do not postulate the subversion of political freedom. The reason for this is simple.
Socio-economic entitlements must yield true benefits to those for whom they are
intended. This can be achieved by eliminating rent-seeking behaviour and by
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preventing the capture of social welfare benefits by persons who are not entitled to
them. Capture of social welfare benefits can be obviated only when political systems
are transparent and when there is a free flow of information. Opacity enures to the
benefit of those who monopolize scarce economic resources. On the other hand,
conditions where civil and political freedoms flourish ensure that governmental
policies are subjected to critique and assessment. It is this scrutiny which sub-serves
the purpose of ensuring that socio-economic benefits actually permeate to the underprivileged
for whom they are meant. Conditions of freedom and a vibrant assertion of
civil and political rights promote a constant review of the justness of socio-economic
programmes and of their effectiveness in addressing deprivation and want. Scrutiny
of public affairs is founded upon the existence of freedom. Hence civil and political
rights and socio-economic rights are complementary and not mutually exclusive.
156 Some of these themes have been addressed in the writings of the Nobel
laureate, Amartya Sen. Sen compares the response of many non-democratic regimes
in critical situations such as famine with the responses of democratic societies in
similar situations.343 His analysis reveals that the political immunity enjoyed by
government leaders in authoritarian states prevents effective measures being taken
to address such conditions:
“For example, Botswana had a fall in food production of 17 percent
and Zimbabwe one of 38 percent between 1979-1981 and 1983-
1984, in the same period in which the food production decline
343 Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press (2000), at page 178-179
PART O
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amounted to a relatively modest 11 or 12 percent in Sudan and
Ethiopia. But while Sudan and Ethiopia, with comparatively smaller
declines in food output, had massive famines, Botswana and
Zimbabwe had none, and this was largely due to timely and
extensive famine prevention policies by these latter countries.
Had the governments in Botswana and Zimbabwe failed to
undertake timely action, they would have been under severe
criticism and pressure from the opposition and would have gotten
plenty of flak from newspapers. In contrast, the Ethiopian and
Sudanese governments did not have to reckon with those
prospects, and the political incentives provided by democratic
institutions were thoroughly absent in those countries. Famines in
Sudan and Ethiopia – and in many other countries in sub-Saharan
Africa – were fed by the political immunity enjoyed by governmental
leaders in authoritarian countries. This would seem to apply to the
present situation in North Korea as well.”344
In the Indian context, Sen points out that the Bengal famine of 1943 “was made viable
not only by the lack of democracy in colonial India but also by severe restrictions on
reporting and criticism imposed on the Indian press, and the voluntary practice of
‘silence’ on the famine that the British-owned media chose to follow”345. Political
liberties and democratic rights are hence regarded as ‘constituent components’ of
development.346 In contrast during the drought which took place in Maharashtra in
1973, food production failed drastically and the per capita food output was half of that
in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet there was no famine in Maharashtra where five million
people were employed in rapidly organized public projects while there were
344 Ibid, at page 179
345 Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice, Penguin Books (2009), at page 339
346 Ibid, at page 347
PART O
219
substantial famines in sub-Saharan Africa. This establishes what he terms as “the
protective role of democracy”. Sen has analysed the issue succinctly:
“The causal connection between democracy and the nonoccurrence
of famines is not hard to seek. Famines kill millions of
people in different countries in the world, but they don’t kill the
rulers. The kings and the presidents, the bureaucrats and the
bosses, the military leaders and the commanders never are famine
victims. And if there are no elections, no opposition parties, no
scope for uncensored public criticism, then those in authority don’t
have to suffer the political consequences of their failure to prevent
famines. Democracy, on the other hand, would spread the penalty
of famines to the ruling groups and political leaders as well. This
gives them the political incentive to try to prevent any threatening
famine, and since famines are in fact easy to prevent (the economic
argument clicks into the political one at this stage), the approaching
famines are firmly prevented.”347
There is, in other words, an intrinsic relationship between development and freedom:
“…development cannot really be seen merely as the process of
increasing inanimate objects of convenience, such as raising the
GNP per head, or promoting industrialization or technological
advance or social modernization. These accomplishments are, of
course, valuable – often crucially important – but their value must
depend on what they do to the lives and freedoms of the people
involved. For adult human beings, with responsibility for choice, the
focus must ultimately be on whether they have the freedom to do
what they have reason to value. In this sense, development consists
of expansion of people’s freedom.”348
347 Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press (2000), at page 180
348 Amartya Sen, “The Country of First Boys”, Oxford University Press, Pg.80-81
PART O
220
In an article recently published in July 2017 in Public Law, titled “The Untapped
Potential of the Mandela Constitution”349, Justice Edwin Cameron, a distinguished
judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, has provided a telling example.
President Mbeki of South Africa doubted the medical science underlying AIDS and
effectively obstructed a feasible ARV programme. This posture of AIDS denialism
plunged South Africa into a crisis of public health as a result of which the drug
Nevirapine which was offered to the South African government free of charge was
refused. Eventually it was when the South African Constitutional Court intervened in
the Treatment Action Campaign decision350 that it was held that the government
had failed the reasonableness test. The article notes that as a result of the decision,
the drug became available and “hundreds and thousands, perhaps millions, of lives
have been saved”. Besides, the article notes that the judgment changed the public
discourse of AIDS and “cut-through the obfuscation of denials and in doing so, dealt
it a fatal blow”351
.
Examples can be multiplied on how a state sanctioned curtain of misinformation or
state mandated black-outs of information can cause a serious denial of socioeconomic
rights. The strength of Indian democracy lies in the foundation provided by
349 Edwin Cameron and Max Taylor, “The Untapped Potential of the Mandela Constitution”, Public Law (2017),
at page 394
350 Minister of Health v Treatment Action Campaign, (2002) 5 SA 721 (CC)
351 Edwin Cameron and Max Taylor, “The Untapped Potential of the Mandela Constitution”, Public Law (2017),
at page 395
PART P
221
the Constitution to liberty and freedom. Liberty and freedom are values which are
intrinsic to our constitutional order. But they also have an instrumental value in
creating conditions in which socio-economic rights can be achieved. India has no iron
curtain. Our society prospers in the shadow of its drapes which let in sunshine and
reflect a multitude of hues based on language, religion, culture and ideologies.
157 We need also emphasise the lack of substance in the submission that privacy
is a privilege for the few. Every individual in society irrespective of social class or
economic status is entitled to the intimacy and autonomy which privacy protects. It is
privacy as an intrinsic and core feature of life and personal liberty which enables an
individual to stand up against a programme of forced sterilization. Then again, it is
privacy which is a powerful guarantee if the State were to introduce compulsory drug
trials of non-consenting men or women. The sanctity of marriage, the liberty of
procreation, the choice of a family life and the dignity of being are matters which
concern every individual irrespective of social strata or economic well being. The
pursuit of happiness is founded upon autonomy and dignity. Both are essential
attributes of privacy which makes no distinction between the birth marks of individuals.
P Not just a common law right
158 There is also no merit in the defence of the Union and the States that privacy
is merely a common law right. The fact that a right may have been afforded protection
at common law does not constitute a bar to the constitutional recognition of the right.
PART P
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The Constitution recognises the right simply because it is an incident of a fundamental
freedom or liberty which the draftsperson considered to be so significant as to require
constitutional protection. Once privacy is held to be an incident of the protection of
life, personal liberty and of the liberties guaranteed by the provisions of Part III of the
Constitution, the submission that privacy is only a right at common law misses the
wood for the trees. The central theme is that privacy is an intrinsic part of life, personal
liberty and of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III which entitles it to protection as a
core of constitutional doctrine. The protection of privacy by the Constitution liberates
it, as it were, from the uncertainties of statutory law which, as we have noted, is subject
to the range of legislative annulments open to a majoritarian government. Any
abridgment must meet the requirements prescribed by Article 21, Article 19 or the
relevant freedom. The Constitutional right is placed at a pedestal which embodies
both a negative and a positive freedom. The negative freedom protects the individual
from unwanted intrusion. As a positive freedom, it obliges the State to adopt suitable
measures for protecting individual privacy. An apt description of this facet is contained
in the Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Comparative Constitutional Law, in its
section on the right to privacy352 :
“2. The right to privacy can be both negatively and positively
defined. The negative right to privacy entails the individuals are
protected from unwanted intrusion by both the state and private
actors into their private life, especially features that define their
personal identity such as sexuality, religion and political affiliation,
ie the inner core of a person’s private life….
352 Anna Jonsson Cornell, “Right to Privacy”, Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Comparative Constitutional Law
(2015)
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The positive right to privacy entails an obligation of states to remove
obstacles for an autonomous shaping of individual identities.”
Q Substantive Due Process
159 During the course of the hearing, Mr Rakesh Dwivedi, learned Senior Counsel
appearing on behalf of the State of Gujarat submitted that the requirement of a valid
law with reference to Article 21 is not conditioned by the notion of substantive due
process. Substantive due process, it was urged is a concept which has been evolved
in relation to the US Constitution but is inapposite in relation to the Indian Constitution.
The history surrounding the drafting of Article 21 indicates a conscious decision by
the Constituent Assembly not to introduce the expression “due process of law” which
is incorporated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. The
draft Constitution which was prepared by the Drafting Committee chaired by Dr B R
Ambedkar contained a ‘due process’ clause to the effect that ‘nor any State shall
deprive any person of life, liberty and property without due process of law’. The clause
as originally drafted was subjected to three important changes in the Constituent
Assembly. Firstly, the reference to property was deleted from the above clause of the
draft Constitution. The members of the Constituent Assembly perceived that retaining
the right to property as part of the due process clause would pose a serious
impediment to legislative reform particularly with the redistribution of property. The
second important change arose from a meeting which Shri B N Rau had with Justice
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Felix Frankfurter in the US. In the US particularly in the years around the Great
Depression, American Courts had utilised the due process clause to invalidate social
welfare legislation. In the Lochner353 era, the US Supreme Court invalidated
legislation such as statutes prohibiting employers from making their employees work
for more than ten hours a day or sixty hours a week on the supposition that this
infringed the liberty of contract. Between 1899 and 1937 (excluding the civil rights
cases), 159 US Supreme Court decisions held state statutes unconstitutional under
the due process and equal protection clauses. Moreover, 25 other statutes were
struck down under the due process clause together with other provisions of the
American Constitution.354 Under the due process clause, the US Supreme Court
struck down labour legislation prohibiting employers from discriminating on the
grounds of union activity; regulation of wages; regulation of prices for commodities
and services; and legislation denying entry into business.355 These decisions were
eventually distinguished or overruled in 1937 and thereafter.356
160 The Constituent Assembly, in this background, made a second important
change in the original draft by qualifying the expression ‘liberty’ with the word
‘personal’. Shri B N Rau suggested that if this qualification were not to be introduced,
353 Lochner v New York, 198 US 45 (1905)
354 William B Lockhart, et al, Constitutional Law: Cases- Comments-Questions, West Publishing Co. (1986), 6th
edition, at page 394
355 Adair v United States, 208 US 161, 28 S. Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436 (1908) (fifth amendment);
Adkins v Children’s Hosp. 261 US 525, 43 S.Ct. 22, 70 L.Ed (1923) (fifth amendment);
Tyson & Bro. v. Banton, 273 US 418, 47 S.Ct. 426, 71 L.Ed. 718 (1927); and
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 US 262, 52 S Ct. 371, 76 L.Ed. 747 (1932)
356 NLRB v Jones & Laughlin Stell Corp. (1937);
West Coast Hotel Co. v Parrish, 300 US 379, 57 S. Ct. 578, 81 L.Ed. 703 (1937)
PART Q
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even price control legislation would be interpreted as interfering with the opportunity
of contract between seller and buyer (see in this context B Shiva Rao’s ‘The Framing
of India’s Constitution: A Study’357).
161 The third major change which the Constituent Assembly made was that the
phrase ‘due process of law’ was deleted from the text of the draft Constitution.
Following B N Rau’s meeting with Justice Frankfurter, the Drafting Committee deleted
the phrase ‘due process of law’ and replaced it with ‘procedure established by law’.
Granville Austin refers to the interaction between Frankfurter and B N Rau and the
reason for the deletion358 :
“Soon after, Rau began his trip to the United States, Canada, Eire,
and England to talk with justices, constitutionalists, and statesmen
about the framing of the Constitution. In the United States he met
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who told him that he
considered the power of judicial review implied in the due process
clause both undemocratic – because a few judges could veto
legislation enacted by the representatives of a nation – and
burdensome to the Judiciary. Frankfurter had been strongly
influenced by the Harvard Law School’s great constitutional lawyer,
James Bradley Thayer, who also feared that too great a reliance on
due process as a protection against legislative oversight or
misbehaviour might weaken the democratic process. Thayer’s
views had impressed Rau even before he met Frankfurter. In his
Constitutional Precedents, Rau had pointed out that Thayer and
others had ‘drawn attention to the dangers of attempting to find in
the Supreme Court – instead of in the lessons of experience – a
safeguard against the mistakes of the representatives of people’.”
357 B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, Indian Institute of Public Administration (1968), at
page 235. See also B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution, Vol. 2, at pages 20-36, 147-153
358 Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation, Oxford University Press (1966), at page103
PART Q
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Though several members of the Constituent Assembly spoke against the deletion, Sir
Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar supported the move on the ground that the expression
‘due process’ would operate as a great handicap for all social legislation and introduce
“judicial vagaries into the moulding of law”359. In his words360 :
“…In the development of the doctrine of ‘due process’ the United
States Supreme Court has not adopted a consistent view at all and
the decisions are conflicting…
The Minimum Wage Law or a Restraint on Employment have in
some cases been regarded as an invasion of personal liberty and
freedom, by the United States Supreme Court in its earlier
decisions, the theory being that it is an essential part of personal
liberty that every person in the world be she a woman, be he a child
over fourteen years of age or be he a labourer, has the right to enter
into any contract he or she liked and it is not the province of other
people to interfere with that liberty. On that ground, in the earlier
decisions of Supreme Court it has been held that the Minimum
Wages Laws are invalid as invading personal liberty…
The clause may serve as a great handicap for all social legislation,
and for the protection of women…
I trust that the House will take into account the various aspects of
this question, the future progress of India, the well-being and the
security of the States, the necessity of maintaining a minimum of
liberty, the need for co-ordinating social control and personal liberty,
before coming to a decision. One thing also will have to be taken
into account, viz., that the security of the State is far from being so
secure as we are imagining at present…”
On the other hand, several members of the Constituent Assembly preferred the
retention of the phrase ‘due process’, among them being Dr Sitaramayya, T T
Krishnamachari, K Santhanam, M A Ayyangar, Dr B V Keskar, S L Saksena, Thakur
359 Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. 7 (6th December 1948), available at
http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol7p20b.htm
360 Ibid
PART Q
227
Das Bhargava, Hukam Singh and four members of the Muslim League.361 K M Munshi
stated that362 :
“…a substantive interpretation of due process could not apply to
liberty of contract – the basis on which the United States Supreme
Court had, at the beginning of the century, declared some social
legislation to be an infringement of due process and hence
unconstitutional – but only to liberty of person, because ‘personal’
had been added to qualify liberty. ‘When a law has been passed
which entitles the government to take away the personal liberty of
an individual, Munshi said, ‘the court will consider whether the law
which has been passed is such as is required by the exigencies of
the case and therefore, as I said, the balance will be struck between
individual liberty and social control. Other Assembly members
agreed: whilst not wishing to impede the passage of social reform
legislation they sought to protect the individual’s personal liberty
against prejudicial action by an arbitrary Executive.”
Dr B R Ambedkar in an insightful observation, presented the merits and demerits of
the rival viewpoints dispassionately. In his words363 :
“There are two views on this point. One view is this; that the
legislature may be trusted not to make any law which would
abrogate the fundamental rights of man, so to say, the fundamental
rights which apply to every individual, and consequently, there is no
danger arising from the introduction of the phrase ‘due process’.
Another view is this : that it is not possible to trust the legislature;
the legislature is likely to err, is likely to be led away by passion, by
party prejudice, by party considerations, and the legislature may
make a law which may abrogate what may be regarded as the
fundamental principles which safeguard the individual rights of a
citizen. We are therefore placed in two difficult positions. One is to
give the judiciary the authority to sit in judgment over the will of the
legislature and to question the law made by the legislature on the
ground that it is not good law, in consonance with fundamental
principles. Is that a desirable principle? The second position is that
361 Granville Austin (Supra note 358), at page 105
362 Ibid, at pages 105-106
363 Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. 7 (13th December 1948), available at
http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol7p25a.htm
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the legislature ought to be trusted not to make bad laws. It is very
difficult to come to any definite conclusion. There are dangers on
both sides. For myself I cannot altogether omit the possibility of a
Legislature packed by party men making laws which may abrogate
or violate what we regard as certain fundamental principles
affecting the life and liberty of an individual. At the same time, I do
not see how five or six gentlemen sitting in the Federal or Supreme
Court examining laws made by the Legislature and by dint of their
own individual conscience or their bias or their prejudices be trusted
to determine which law is good and which law is bad. It is rather a
case where a man has to sail between Charybdis and Scylla and I
therefor would not say anything. I would leave it to the House to
decide in any way it likes.”
The amendments proposed by some members to reintroduce ‘due process’ were
rejected on 13 December 1948 and the phrase “due process of law” was deleted from
the original draft Constitution. However, Article 22 was introduced into the Constitution
to protect against arbitrary arrest and detention by incorporating several safeguards.
162 In Gopalan, the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 was challenged on the ground
that it denied significant procedural safeguards against arbitrary detention. The
majority rejected the argument that the expression ‘procedure established by law’
meant procedural due process. Chief Justice Kania noted that Article 21 of our
Constitution had consciously been drawn up by the draftsmen so as to not use the
word ‘due process’ which was used in the American Constitution. Hence it was
impermissible to read the expression ‘procedure established by law’ to mean
‘procedural due process’ or as requiring compliance with natural justice. Justice
Patanjali Sastri held that reading the expression ‘due process of law’ into the
Constitution was impermissible since it would lead to those ‘subtle and elusive criteria’
PART Q
229
implied in the phrase which it was the deliberate purpose of the framers of our
Constitution to avoid. Similarly, Justice Das also observed that our Constitution
makers had deliberately declined to adopt “the uncertain and shifting American
doctrine of due process of law” which could not, therefore, be read into Article 21.
Hence, the view of the majority was that once the procedure was established by a
validly enacted law, Article 21 would not be violated.
163 In his celebrated dissent, Justice Fazl Ali pointed out that the phrase ‘procedure
established by law’ was borrowed from the Japanese Constitution (which was drafted
under American influence at the end of the Second World War) and hence the
expression means ‘procedural due process’. In Justice Fazl Ali’s view the deprivation
of life and personal liberty under Article 21, had to be preceded by (i) a notice; (ii) an
opportunity of being heard; (iii) adjudication by an impartial tribunal; and (iv) an orderly
course of procedure. Formulating these four principles, Justice Fazl Ali held thus:
“…Article 21 purports to protect life and personal liberty, and it
would be a precarious protection and a protection not worth having,
if the elementary principle of law under discussion which, according
to Halsbury is on a par with fundamental rights, is to be ignored and
excluded. In the course of his arguments, the learned counsel for
the petitioner repeatedly asked whether the Constitution would
permit a law being enacted, abolishing the mode of trial permitted
by the existing law and establishing the procedure of trial by battle
or trial by ordeal which was in vogue in olden times in England. The
question envisages something which is not likely to happen, but it
does raise a legal problem which can perhaps be met only in this
way that if the expression “procedure established by law” simply
means any procedure established or enacted by statute it will be
difficult to give a negative answer to the question, but if the word
“law” includes what I have endeavoured to show it does, such an
answer may be justified. It seems to me that there is nothing
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230
revolutionary in the doctrine that the words “procedure established
by law” must include the four principles set out in Professor Willis’
book, which, as I have already stated, are different aspects of the
same principle and which have no vagueness or uncertainty about
them. These principles, as the learned author points out and as the
authorities show, are not absolutely rigid principles but are
adaptable to the circumstances of each case within certain limits. I
have only to add that it has not been seriously controverted that
“law” in this article means valid law and “procedure” means certain
definite rules of proceeding and not something which is a mere
pretence for procedure.”364
In Maneka, where the passport of the petitioner was impounded without furnishing
reasons, a majority of judges found that the expression ‘procedure established by law’
did not mean any procedure howsoever arbitrary or fanciful. The procedure had to be
fair, just and reasonable. The views of Justices Chandrachud, Bhagwati and Krishna
Iyer emerge from the following brief extracts:
“Chandrachud, J.:
…But the mere prescription of some kind of procedure cannot ever
meet the mandate of Article 21. The procedure prescribed by law
has to be fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or
arbitrary.”365
“Bhagwati, J.:
The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as
philosophically, is an essential element of equality or nonarbitrariness
pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and
the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of
reasonableness in order to be in conformity with Article 14. It must
be “right and just and fair” and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive;
otherwise, it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of
Article 21 would not be satisfied.”366
364 Gopalan (Supra note 3), at pages 60-61 (para 77)
365 Maneka (Supra note 5), at page 323 (para 48)
366 Ibid, at page 284 (para 7)
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“Krishna Iyer, J.:
…So I am convinced that to frustrate Article 21 by relying on any
formal adjectival statute, however, flimsy or fantastic its provisions
be, is to rob what the constitution treasures.
…To sum up, “procedure” in Article 21 means fair, not formal
procedure. “Law” is reasonable law, not any enacted piece.”367
Soon after the decision in Maneka, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the
provisions for solitary confinement under Section 30(2) of the Prisons Act, 1894 which
stipulated that a prisoner “under sentence of death” is to be kept in a cell apart from
other prisoners. In Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration368, the Court pointed out that
Sections 73 and 74 of the Penal Code which contain a substantive punishment by
way of solitary confinement was not under challenge. Section 30(2) of the Prisons
Act was read down by holding that the expression “under sentence of death” would
apply only after the entire process of remedies had been exhausted by the convict
and the clemency petition had been denied. Justice D A Desai, speaking for the
majority, held that:
“…the word “law” in the expression “procedure established by law”
in Article 21 has been interpreted to mean in Maneka Gandhi’s case
that the law must be right, just and fair and not arbitrary, fanciful or
oppressive.”369
367 Ibid, at page 338 (paras 82 and 85)
368 (1978) 4 SCC 494
369 Ibid, at pages 574-575 (para 228)
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Justice Krishna Iyer took note of the fact that our Constitution does not contain a due
process clause and opined that after the decision in Maneka, the absence of such a
clause would make no difference:
“…true, our Constitution has no ‘due process’ clause or the VIIIth
Amendment; but, in this branch of law, after Cooper and Maneka
Gandhi the consequence is the same.”370
164 A substantive challenge to the constitutional validity of the death penalty on a
conviction on a charge of murder was raised in Bachan Singh371. The judgment
noted:
“136. Article 21 reads as under:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty
except according to procedure established by law.”
If this Article is expanded in accordance with the interpretative
principle indicated in Maneka Gandhi, it will read as follows:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty
except according to fair, just and reasonable procedure
established by valid law."
In the converse positive form, the expanded Article will read as
below:
“A person may be deprived of his life or personal liberty in
accordance with fair, just and reasonable procedure
established by valid law.””372
Bachan Singh clearly involved a substantive challenge to the constitutional validity
of a statutory provision. The majority adjudicated upon the constitutional challenge
under Article 21 and held that it did not suffer from substantive or procedural invalidity.
370 Ibid, at page 518 (para 52)
371 (1980) 2 SCC 684
372 Ibid, at page 730 (para 136)
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In his dissent373, Justice Bhagwati significantly observed that the word “procedure”
under Article 21 would cover the entire process by which deprivation is effected and
that would include not only “the adjectival” but also substantive part of law. In the view
of the Court:
“The word ‘procedure’ in Article 21 is wide enough to cover the
entire process by which deprivation is effected and that would
include not only the adjectival but also the substantive part of
law.”374
In Mithu v State of Punjab375 (“Mithu”), a Constitution Bench considered the validity
of Section 303 of the Penal Code which provided for a mandatory death penalty where
a person commits murder while undergoing a sentence of life imprisonment. Section
303 excluded the procedural safeguards under Section 235(2) and 354(3) of the
Criminal Procedure Code under which the accused is required to be heard on the
question of sentence and “special reasons” need to be adduced for imposing the
death sentence. In the course of the judgment, Chandrachud C J indicated examples
of situations where a substantive enactment could be challenged on the touchstone
of Articles 14 and 21. The observations of the Court, which are extracted below would
indicate that while the Court did not use the expression “substantive due process” it
recognised that a law would be amenable to challenge under Article 21 not only on
the ground that the procedure which it prescribes is not fair, just and reasonable but
373 (1982) 3 SCC 24
374 Ibid, at page 55 (para 17)
375 (1983) 2 SCC 277
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on the touchstone of having imposed a penalty which is savage or, as the Court held,
an anathema of civilised jurisprudence :
“These decisions have expanded the scope of Article 21 in a
significant way and it is now too late in the day to contend that it is
for the legislature to prescribe the procedure and for the courts to
follow it; that it is for the legislature to provide the punishment and
for the courts to impose it. Two instances, undoubtedly extreme,
may be taken by way of illustration for the purpose of showing how
the courts are not bound, and are indeed not free, to apply a
fanciful procedure by a blind adherence to the letter of the law
or to impose a savage sentence. A law providing that an
accused shall not be allowed to lead evidence in self-defence
will be hit by Articles 14 and 21. Similarly, if a law were to
provide that the offence of theft will be punishable with the
penalty of the cutting of hands, the law will be bad as violating
Article 21. A savage sentence is anathema to the civilized
jurisprudence of Article 21. These are, of course, extreme
illustrations and we need have no fear that our legislatures will ever
pass such laws. But these examples serve to illustrate that the
last word on the question of justice and fairness does not rest
with the legislature. Just as reasonableness of restrictions under
clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 is for the courts to determine, so is it
for the courts to decide whether the procedure prescribed by a law
for depriving a person of his life or liberty is fair, just and reasonable.
The question which then arises before us is whether the sentence
of death, prescribed by Section 303 of the Penal Code for the
offence of murder committed by a person who is under a sentence
of life imprisonment, is arbitrary and oppressive so as to be violative
of the fundamental right conferred by Article 21.”376
(emphasis supplied)
In A K Roy v Union of India377, dealing with the question of preventive detention, a
Constitution Bench of this Court adverted to the conscious decision in the Constituent
376 Ibid, at pages 284-285 (para 6)
377 (1982) 1 SCC 271
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Assembly to delete the expression ‘due process of law’ from Article 21. The Court held
that:
“The fact that England and America do not resort to preventive
detention in normal times was known to our Constituent Assembly
and yet it chose to provide for it, sanctioning its use for specified
purposes. The attitude of two other well-known democracies to
preventive detention as a means of regulating the lives and liberties
of the people was undoubtedly relevant to the framing of our
Constitution. But the framers having decided to adopt and legitimise
it, we cannot declare it unconstitutional by importing our notions of
what is right and wrong. The power to judge the fairness and
justness of procedure established by a law for the purposes of
Article 21 is one thing: that power can be spelt out from the
language of that article. Procedural safeguards are the
handmaids of equal justice and since, the power of the
government is colossal as compared with the power of an
individual, the freedom of the individual can be safe only if he
has a guarantee that he will be treated fairly. The power to
decide upon the justness of the law itself is quite another
thing: that power springs from a ‘due process’ provision such
as is to be found in the 5th and 14th Amendments of the
American Constitution by which no person can be deprived of
life, liberty or property “without due process of law”.”378
(emphasis supplied)
In Saroj Rani v Sudarshan Kumar379
, this Court upheld the constitutional validity of
the provision for restitution of conjugal rights contained in Section 9 of the Hindu
Marriage Act, 1955. The Court found that the provision served a social purpose of
preventing the breakdown of marriages and contained safeguards against its being
used arbitrarily.
378 Ibid, at page 301 (para 35)
379 (1984) 4 SCC 90
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In Mohd. Arif v Supreme Court380, a Constitution Bench of this Court held that the
expression “reasonable procedure” in the context of Article 21 would encompass an
oral hearing of review petitions arising out of death penalties. Tracing the history of
the evolution of Article 21, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, speaking for the majority in
the Constitution Bench, observed as follows:
“The wheel has turned full circle. Substantive due process is now to
be applied to the fundamental right to life and liberty.”381
More recently, Justice Chelameswar, speaking for a Bench of two judges in Rajbala
v State of Haryana382
, has struck a note of caution, by drawing attention to the
position that the expression ‘due process of law’ was consciously deleted in the
drafting process after the framing of the Constitution. Hence, in the view of the learned
Judge, it would be inappropriate to incorporate notions of substantive due process
adopted in the US while examining the constitutionality of Indian legislation. The Court
observed:
“From the above extract from McDowell & Co. case it is clear that
the courts in this country do not undertake the task of
declaring a piece of legislation unconstitutional on the ground
that the legislation is “arbitrary” since such an exercise implies
a value judgment and courts do not examine the wisdom of
some specific provision of the Constitution. To undertake
such an examination would amount to virtually importing the
doctrine of “substantive due process” employed by the
American Supreme Court at an earlier point of time while
examining the constitutionality of Indian legislation. As pointed
out in the above extract, even in United States the doctrine is
currently of doubtful legitimacy. This Court long back in A.S.
380 (2014) 9 SCC 737
381 Ibid, at page 756 (para 28)
382 (2016) 2 SCC 445
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Krishna v. State of Madras [1957 SCR 399] declared that the
doctrine of due process has no application under the Indian
Constitution. As pointed out by Frankfurter, J. arbitrariness became
a mantra.”383
(emphasis supplied)
The constitutional history surrounding the drafting of Article 21 contains an abundant
reflection of a deliberate and studied decision of the Constituent Assembly to delete
the expression ‘due process of law’ from the draft Constitution when the Constitution
was adopted. In the Constituent Assembly, the Drafting Committee chaired by Dr B
R Ambedkar had included the phrase but it came to be deleted after a careful
evaluation of the vagaries of the decision making process in the US involving
interpretation of the due process clause. Significantly, present to the mind of the
framers of our Constitution was the invalidation of social welfare legislation in the US
on the anvil of the due process clause on the ground that it violated the liberty of
contract of men, women and children to offer themselves for work in a free market for
labour. This model evidently did not appeal to those who opposed the incorporation
of a similar phrase into the Indian Constitution.
Yet the debates in the Constituent Assembly indicate that there was a substantial
body of opposition to the deletion of the due process clause, which eventually led Dr
B R Ambedkar to objectively sum up the rival view points for decision by the House.
Evidently ‘due process’ was substituted with the expression ‘procedure established by
law’. ‘Liberty’ was qualified by ‘personal’.
383 Ibid, at page 481 (para 64)
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Having noticed this, the evolution of Article 21, since the decision in Cooper indicates
two major areas of change. First, the fundamental rights are no longer regarded as
isolated silos or water tight compartments. In consequence, Article 14 has been held
to animate the content of Article 21. Second, the expression ‘procedure established
by law’ in Article 21 does not connote a formalistic requirement of a mere presence of
procedure in enacted law. That expression has been held to signify the content of the
procedure and its quality which must be fair, just and reasonable. The mere fact that
the law provides for the deprivation of life or personal liberty is not sufficient to
conclude its validity and the procedure to be constitutionally valid must be fair, just
and reasonable. The quality of reasonableness does not attach only to the content of
the procedure which the law prescribes with reference to Article 21 but to the content
of the law itself. In other words, the requirement of Article 21 is not fulfilled only by the
enactment of fair and reasonable procedure under the law and a law which does so
may yet be susceptible to challenge on the ground that its content does not accord
with the requirements of a valid law. The law is open to substantive challenge on the
ground that it violates the fundamental right.
In dealing with a substantive challenge to a law on the ground that it violates a
fundamental right, there are settled principles of constitutional interpretation which
hold the field. The first is the presumption of constitutionality384 which is based on the
384 Charanjit Lal Chowdhury v. The Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 41 ; Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Shri Justice S.R.
Tendolkar, AIR 1958 SC 538 ; Burrakur Coal Co. Ltd. v. Union of India AIR 1961 SC 954 ; Pathumma v. State
of Kerala (1970) 2 SCR 537 ; R.K. Garg v. Union of India, (1981) 4 SCC 675 ; State of Bihar v. Bihar Distillery
Limited, AIR 1997 SC 1511 ; State of Andhra Pradesh v. K. Purushottam Reddy (2003) 9 SCC 564, ; Mardia
Chemicals Ltd. v. Union of India, (2004) 4 SCC 311 ; State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat,
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foundational principle that the legislature which is entrusted with the duty of law
making best understands the needs of society and would not readily be assumed to
have transgressed a constitutional limitation. The burden lies on the individual who
asserts a constitutional transgression to establish it. Secondly, the Courts tread warily
in matters of social and economic policy where they singularly lack expertise to make
evaluations. Policy making is entrusted to the state.385
The doctrine of separation of powers requires the Court to allow deference to the
legislature whose duty it is to frame and enact law and to the executive whose duty it
is to enforce law. The Court would not, in the exercise of judicial review, substitute its
own opinion for the wisdom of the law enacting or law enforcing bodies. In the context
of Article 19, the test of reasonableness was explained in the erudite words of Chief
Justice Patanjali Sastri in State of Madras v V G Row386, where the learned Chief
Justice held thus:
“It is important in this context to bear in mind that the test of
reasonableness, wherever prescribed, should be applied to each
individual statute impugned, and no abstract standard, or general
pattern of reasonableness can be laid down as applicable to all
cases. The nature of the right alleged to have been infringed,
the underlying purpose of the restrictions imposed, the extent
and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the
disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at
the time, should all enter into the judicial verdict. In evaluating
2005 (8) SCC 534 ; Bhanumati v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2010) 12 SCC 1 ; K.T. Plantation Pvt. Ltd. v. State of
Karnataka, (2011) 9 SCC 1 ; State of Madhya Pradesh v. Rakesh Kohli, (2012) 6 SCC 312 ; Namit Sharma v.
Union of India, (2013) 1 SCC 745
385 R.K. Garg v. Union of India, (1981) 4 SCC 675; Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary
Education v. Paritosh Bhupesh Kurmarsheth, AIR 1984 SC 1543; State of Andhra Pradesh v. McDowell, (1996)
3 SCC 709 ; Union of India v. Azadi Bachao Andolan, (2004) 10 SCC 1 ; State of U.P. v. Jeet S. Bisht, (2007)
6 SCC 586 ; K.T. Plantation Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Karnataka, (2011) 9 SCC 1 ; Bangalore Development Authority
v. The Air Craft Employees Cooperative Society Ltd., 2012 (1) SCALE 646
386 (1952) SCR 597
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such elusive factors and forming their own conception of what is
reasonable, in all the circumstances of a given case, it is inevitable
that the social philosophy and the scale of values of the judges
participating in the decision should play an important part, and the
limit of their interference with legislative judgment in such cases can
only be dictated by their sense of responsibility and self-restraint
and the sobering reflection that the Constitution is meant not
only for people of their way of thinking but for all, and that the
majority of the elected representatives of the people have, in
authorizing the imposition of the restrictions, considered them to be
reasonable.”387 (emphasis supplied)
165 The Court, in the exercise of its power of judicial review, is unquestionably
vested with the constitutional power to adjudicate upon the validity of a law. When
the validity of a law is questioned on the ground that it violates a guarantee contained
in Article 21, the scope of the challenge is not confined only to whether the procedure
for the deprivation of life or personal liberty is fair, just and reasonable. Substantive
challenges to the validity of laws encroaching upon the right to life or personal liberty
has been considered and dealt with in varying contexts, such as the death penalty
(Bachan Singh) and mandatory death sentence (Mithu), among other cases. A
person cannot be deprived of life or personal liberty except in accordance with the
procedure established by law. Article 14, as a guarantee against arbitrariness, infuses
the entirety of Article 21. The inter-relationship between the guarantee against
arbitrariness and the protection of life and personal liberty operates in a multi-faceted
plane. First, it ensures that the procedure for deprivation must be fair, just and
reasonable. Second, Article 14 impacts both the procedure and the expression “law”.
387 Ibid, at page 607
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A law within the meaning of Article 21 must be consistent with the norms of fairness
which originate in Article 14. As a matter of principle, once Article 14 has a connect
with Article 21, norms of fairness and reasonableness would apply not only to the
procedure but to the law as well.
166 Above all, it must be recognized that judicial review is a powerful guarantee
against legislative encroachments on life and personal liberty. To cede this right would
dilute the importance of the protection granted to life and personal liberty by the
Constitution. Hence, while judicial review in constitutional challenges to the validity of
legislation is exercised with a conscious regard for the presumption of constitutionality
and for the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial
institutions, the constitutional power which is vested in the Court must be retained as
a vibrant means of protecting the lives and freedoms of individuals.
167 The danger of construing this as an exercise of ‘substantive due process’ is that
it results in the incorporation of a concept from the American Constitution which was
consciously not accepted when the Constitution was framed. Moreover, even in the
country of its origin, substantive due process has led to vagaries of judicial
interpretation. Particularly having regard to the constitutional history surrounding the
deletion of that phrase in our Constitution, it would be inappropriate to equate the
jurisdiction of a Constitutional Court in India to entertain a substantive challenge to the
validity of a law with the exercise of substantive due process under the US
Constitution. Reference to substantive due process in some of the judgments is
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essentially a reference to a substantive challenge to the validity of a law on the ground
that its substantive (as distinct from procedural) provisions violate the Constitution.
R Essential nature of privacy
168 What, then, does privacy postulate? Privacy postulates the reservation of a
private space for the individual, described as the right to be let alone. The concept is
founded on the autonomy of the individual. The ability of an individual to make choices
lies at the core of the human personality. The notion of privacy enables the individual
to assert and control the human element which is inseparable from the personality of
the individual. The inviolable nature of the human personality is manifested in the
ability to make decisions on matters intimate to human life. The autonomy of the
individual is associated over matters which can be kept private. These are concerns
over which there is a legitimate expectation of privacy. The body and the mind are
inseparable elements of the human personality. The integrity of the body and the
sanctity of the mind can exist on the foundation that each individual possesses an
inalienable ability and right to preserve a private space in which the human personality
can develop. Without the ability to make choices, the inviolability of the personality
would be in doubt. Recognizing a zone of privacy is but an acknowledgment that each
individual must be entitled to chart and pursue the course of development of
personality. Hence privacy is a postulate of human dignity itself. Thoughts and
behavioural patterns which are intimate to an individual are entitled to a zone of
privacy where one is free of social expectations. In that zone of privacy, an individual
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is not judged by others. Privacy enables each individual to take crucial decisions which
find expression in the human personality. It enables individuals to preserve their
beliefs, thoughts, expressions, ideas, ideologies, preferences and choices against
societal demands of homogeneity. Privacy is an intrinsic recognition of heterogeneity,
of the right of the individual to be different and to stand against the tide of conformity
in creating a zone of solitude. Privacy protects the individual from the searching glare
of publicity in matters which are personal to his or her life. Privacy attaches to the
person and not to the place where it is associated. Privacy constitutes the foundation
of all liberty because it is in privacy that the individual can decide how liberty is best
exercised. Individual dignity and privacy are inextricably linked in a pattern woven out
of a thread of diversity into the fabric of a plural culture.
169 Privacy of the individual is an essential aspect of dignity. Dignity has both an
intrinsic and instrumental value. As an intrinsic value, human dignity is an entitlement
or a constitutionally protected interest in itself. In its instrumental facet, dignity and
freedom are inseparably inter-twined, each being a facilitative tool to achieve the
other. The ability of the individual to protect a zone of privacy enables the realization
of the full value of life and liberty. Liberty has a broader meaning of which privacy is
a subset. All liberties may not be exercised in privacy. Yet others can be fulfilled only
within a private space. Privacy enables the individual to retain the autonomy of the
body and mind. The autonomy of the individual is the ability to make decisions on
vital matters of concern to life. Privacy has not been couched as an independent
fundamental right. But that does not detract from the constitutional protection afforded
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to it, once the true nature of privacy and its relationship with those fundamental rights
which are expressly protected is understood. Privacy lies across the spectrum of
protected freedoms. The guarantee of equality is a guarantee against arbitrary state
action. It prevents the state from discriminating between individuals. The destruction
by the state of a sanctified personal space whether of the body or of the mind is
violative of the guarantee against arbitrary state action. Privacy of the body entitles
an individual to the integrity of the physical aspects of personhood. The intersection
between one’s mental integrity and privacy entitles the individual to freedom of
thought, the freedom to believe in what is right, and the freedom of self-determination.
When these guarantees intersect with gender, they create a private space which
protects all those elements which are crucial to gender identity. The family, marriage,
procreation and sexual orientation are all integral to the dignity of the individual.
Above all, the privacy of the individual recognises an inviolable right to determine how
freedom shall be exercised. An individual may perceive that the best form of
expression is to remain silent. Silence postulates a realm of privacy. An artist finds
reflection of the soul in a creative endeavour. A writer expresses the outcome of a
process of thought. A musician contemplates upon notes which musically lead to
silence. The silence, which lies within, reflects on the ability to choose how to convey
thoughts and ideas or interact with others. These are crucial aspects of personhood.
The freedoms under Article 19 can be fulfilled where the individual is entitled to decide
upon his or her preferences. Read in conjunction with Article 21, liberty enables the
individual to have a choice of preferences on various facets of life including what and
how one will eat, the way one will dress, the faith one will espouse and a myriad other
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matters on which autonomy and self-determination require a choice to be made within
the privacy of the mind. The constitutional right to the freedom of religion under Article
25 has implicit within it the ability to choose a faith and the freedom to express or not
express those choices to the world. These are some illustrations of the manner in
which privacy facilitates freedom and is intrinsic to the exercise of liberty. The
Constitution does not contain a separate article telling us that privacy has been
declared to be a fundamental right. Nor have we tagged the provisions of Part III with
an alpha suffixed right of privacy: this is not an act of judicial redrafting. Dignity cannot
exist without privacy. Both reside within the inalienable values of life, liberty and
freedom which the Constitution has recognised. Privacy is the ultimate expression of
the sanctity of the individual. It is a constitutional value which straddles across the
spectrum of fundamental rights and protects for the individual a zone of choice and
self-determination.
Privacy represents the core of the human personality and recognizes the ability of
each individual to make choices and to take decisions governing matters intimate and
personal. Yet, it is necessary to acknowledge that individuals live in communities and
work in communities. Their personalities affect and, in turn are shaped by their social
environment. The individual is not a hermit. The lives of individuals are as much a
social phenomenon. In their interactions with others, individuals are constantly
engaged in behavioural patterns and in relationships impacting on the rest of society.
Equally, the life of the individual is being consistently shaped by cultural and social
values imbibed from living in the community. This state of flux which represents a
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constant evolution of individual personhood in the relationship with the rest of society
provides the rationale for reserving to the individual a zone of repose. The lives which
individuals lead as members of society engender a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The notion of a reasonable expectation of privacy has elements both of a subjective
and objective nature. Privacy at a subjective level is a reflection of those areas where
an individual desire to be left alone. On an objective plane, privacy is defined by those
constitutional values which shape the content of the protected zone where the
individual ought to be left alone. The notion that there must exist a reasonable
expectation of privacy ensures that while on the one hand, the individual has a
protected zone of privacy, yet on the other, the exercise of individual choices is subject
to the rights of others to lead orderly lives. For instance, an individual who possesses
a plot of land may decide to build upon it subject to zoning regulations. If the building
bye laws define the area upon which construction can be raised or the height of the
boundary wall around the property, the right to privacy of the individual is conditioned
by regulations designed to protect the interests of the community in planned spaces.
Hence while the individual is entitled to a zone of privacy, its extent is based not only
on the subjective expectation of the individual but on an objective principle which
defines a reasonable expectation.
S Informational privacy
170 Ours is an age of information. Information is knowledge. The old adage that
“knowledge is power” has stark implications for the position of the individual where
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data is ubiquitous, an all-encompassing presence. Technology has made life
fundamentally interconnected. The internet has become all pervasive as individuals
spend more and more time online each day of their lives. Individuals connect with
others and use the internet as a means of communication. The internet is used to
carry on business and to buy goods and services. Individuals browse the web in
search of information, to send e-mails, use instant messaging services and to
download movies. Online purchases have become an efficient substitute for the daily
visit to the neighbouring store. Online banking has redefined relationships between
bankers and customers. Online trading has created a new platform for the market in
securities. Online music has refashioned the radio. Online books have opened up a
new universe for the bibliophile. The old-fashioned travel agent has been rendered
redundant by web portals which provide everything from restaurants to rest houses,
airline tickets to art galleries, museum tickets to music shows. These are but a few of
the reasons people access the internet each day of their lives. Yet every transaction
of an individual user and every site that she visits, leaves electronic tracks generally
without her knowledge. These electronic tracks contain powerful means of
information which provide knowledge of the sort of person that the user is and her
interests388. Individually, these information silos may seem inconsequential. In
aggregation, they disclose the nature of the personality: food habits, language, health,
hobbies, sexual preferences, friendships, ways of dress and political affiliation. In
388 See Francois Nawrot, Katarzyna Syska and Przemyslaw Switalski, “Horizontal application of fundamental
rights – Right to privacy on the internet”, 9
th Annual European Constitutionalism Seminar (May 2010),
University of Warsaw, available at http://en.zpc.wpia.uw.edu.pl/wpcontent/uploads/2010/04/9_Horizontal_Application_of_Fundamental_Rights.pdf
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aggregation, information provides a picture of the being: of things which matter and
those that don’t, of things to be disclosed and those best hidden.
171 Popular websites install cookie files by the user’s browser. Cookies can tag
browsers for unique identified numbers, which allow them to recognise rapid users
and secure information about online behaviour. Information, especially the browsing
history of a user is utilised to create user profiles. The use of algorithms allows the
creation of profiles about internet users. Automated content analysis of e-mails allows
for reading of user e-mails. An e-mail can be analysed to deduce user interests and
to target suitable advertisements to a user on the site of the window. The books which
an individual purchases on-line provide footprints for targeted advertising of the same
genre. Whether an airline ticket has been purchased on economy or business class,
provides vital information about employment profile or spending capacity. Taxi rides
booked on-line to shopping malls provide a profile of customer preferences. A woman
who purchases pregnancy related medicines on-line would be in line to receive
advertisements for baby products. Lives are open to electronic scrutiny. To put it
mildly, privacy concerns are seriously an issue in the age of information.
172 A Press Note released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on 3 July,
2017389 is indicative of the prevalence of telecom services in India as on 31 December,
2016. The total number of subscribers stood at 1151.78 million, reflecting a 11.13
389 Press Release 45/2017, available at http://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_No.45of2017.pdf
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percent change over the previous year. There were 683.14 million urban subscribers
and 468.64 million rural subscribers. The total number of internet subscribers stood
at 391.50 million reflecting an 18.04 per cent change over the previous quarter.
236.09 million were broadband subscribers. 370 million is the figure of wireless
internet subscribers. The total internet subscribers per 100 population stood at 30.56;
urban internet subscribers were 68.86 per 100 population; and rural internet
subscribers being 13.08. The figures only increase.
173 The age of information has resulted in complex issues for informational privacy.
These issues arise from the nature of information itself. Information has three facets:
it is nonrivalrous, invisible and recombinant390. Information is nonrivalrous in the
sense that there can be simultaneous users of the good – use of a piece of information
by one person does not make it less available to another. Secondly, invasions of data
privacy are difficult to detect because they can be invisible. Information can be
accessed, stored and disseminated without notice. Its ability to travel at the speed of
light enhances the invisibility of access to data, “information collection can be the
swiftest theft of all”391. Thirdly, information is recombinant in the sense that data output
can be used as an input to generate more data output.
390 Christina P. Moniodis, “Moving from Nixon to NASA: Privacy ‘s Second Strand- A Right to Informational
Privacy”, Yale Journal of Law and Technology (2012), Vol. 15 (1), at page 153
391 Ibid
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174 Data Mining processes together with knowledge discovery can be combined to
create facts about individuals. Metadata and the internet of things have the ability to
redefine human existence in ways which are yet fully to be perceived. This, as
Christina Moniodis states in her illuminating article results in the creation of new
knowledge about individuals; something which even she or he did not possess. This
poses serious issues for the Court. In an age of rapidly evolving technology it is
impossible for a judge to conceive of all the possible uses of information or its
consequences:
“…The creation of new knowledge complicates data privacy law as
it involves information the individual did not possess and could not
disclose, knowingly or otherwise. In addition, as our state becomes
an “information state” through increasing reliance on information –
such that information is described as the “lifeblood that sustains
political, social, and business decisions. It becomes impossible to
conceptualize all of the possible uses of information and resulting
harms. Such a situation poses a challenge for courts who are
effectively asked to anticipate and remedy invisible, evolving
harms.” 392
The contemporary age has been aptly regarded as “an era of ubiquitous dataveillance,
or the systematic monitoring of citizen’s communications or actions through the use
of information technology”393. It is also an age of “big data” or the collection of data
sets. These data sets are capable of being searched; they have linkages with other
data sets; and are marked by their exhaustive scope and the permanency of
collection.394 The challenges which big data poses to privacy interests emanate from
392 Ibid, at page 154
393 Yvonne McDermott, “Conceptualizing the right to data protection in an era of Big Data”, Big Data and Society
(2017), at page 1
394 Ibid, at pages 1 and 4
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State and non-State entities. Users of wearable devices and social media networks
may not conceive of themselves as having volunteered data but their activities of use
and engagement result in the generation of vast amounts of data about individual
lifestyles, choices and preferences. Yvonne McDermott speaks about the quantified
self in eloquent terms:
“…The rise in the so-called ‘quantified self’, or the self-tracking of
biological, environmental, physical, or behavioural information
through tracking devices, Internet-of-things devices, social network
data and other means (?Swan.2013) may result in information
being gathered not just about the individual user, but about people
around them as well. Thus, a solely consent-based model does not
entirely ensure the protection of one’s data, especially when data
collected for one purpose can be repurposed for another.”395
175 Daniel J Solove deals with the problem of “aggregation”. Businesses and
governments often aggregate a variety of information fragments, including pieces of
information which may not be viewed as private in isolation to create a detailed portrait
of personalities and behaviour of individuals.396 Yet, it is now a universally accepted
fact that information and data flow are “increasingly central to social and economic
ordering”397. Individuals are identified with reference to tax records, voting eligibility,
and government-provided entitlements. There is what is now described as “‘veillant
panoptic assemblage’, where data gathered through the ordinary citizen’s veillance
395 Ibid, at page 4
396 Christina P. Moniodis, “Moving from Nixon to NASA: Privacy ‘s Second Strand- A Right to Informational
Privacy”, Yale Journal of Law and Technology (2012), Vol. 15 (1), at page 159. The article attributes Daniel
Solove’s work on privacy as- Daniel J. Solove, Understanding Privacy 70 (2008).
397 Ibid, at page 156
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practices finds its way to state surveillance mechanisms, through the corporations that
hold that data”398
.
176 The balance between data regulation and individual privacy raises complex
issues requiring delicate balances to be drawn between the legitimate concerns of the
State on one hand and individual interest in the protection of privacy on the other.
177 The sphere of privacy stretches at one end to those intimate matters to which
a reasonable expectation of privacy may attach. It expresses a right to be left alone.
A broader connotation which has emerged in academic literature of a comparatively
recent origin is related to the protection of one’s identity. Data protection relates
closely with the latter sphere. Data such as medical information would be a category
to which a reasonable expectation of privacy attaches. There may be other data which
falls outside the reasonable expectation paradigm. Apart from safeguarding privacy,
data protection regimes seek to protect the autonomy of the individual. This is evident
from the emphasis in the European data protection regime on the centrality of consent.
Related to the issue of consent is the requirement of transparency which requires a
disclosure by the data recipient of information pertaining to data transfer and use.
178 Another aspect which data protection regimes seek to safeguard is the principle
of non-discrimination which ensures that the collection of data should be carried out
398 Yvonne McDermott, “Conceptualizing the right to data protection in an era of Big Data”, Big Data and Society
(2017), at page 4.
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in a manner which does not discriminate on the basis of racial or ethnic origin, political
or religious beliefs, genetic or health status or sexual orientation.
179 Formulation of a regime for data protection is a complex exercise which needs
to be undertaken by the State after a careful balancing of the requirements of privacy
coupled with other values which the protection of data sub-serves together with the
legitimate concerns of the State. One of the chief concerns which the formulation of
a data protection regime has to take into account is that while the web is a source of
lawful activity-both personal and commercial, concerns of national security intervene
since the seamless structure of the web can be exploited by terrorists to wreak havoc
and destruction on civilised societies. Cyber attacks can threaten financial systems.
Richard A Posner, in an illuminating article, has observed:
“Privacy is the terrorist’s best friend, and the terrorist’s privacy has
been enhanced by the same technological developments that have
both made data mining feasible and elicited vast quantities of
personal information from innocents: the internet, with its
anonymity, and the secure encryption of digitized data which, when
combined with that anonymity, make the internet a powerful tool of
conspiracy. The government has a compelling need to exploit
digitization in defense of national security…”399
Posner notes that while “people value their informational privacy”, yet “they surrender
it at the drop of a hat” by readily sharing personal data in the course of simple daily
transactions. The paradox, he observes, can be resolved by noting that as long as
399 Richard A. Posner, “Privacy, Surveillance, and Law”, The University of Chicago Law Review (2008), Vol.75,
at page 251
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people do not expect that the details of their health, intimacies and finances among
others will be used to harm them in interaction with other people, they are content to
reveal those details when they derive benefits from the revelation.400 As long as
intelligence personnel can be trusted to use the knowledge gained only for the
defence of the nation, “the public will be compensated for the costs of diminished
privacy in increased security from terrorist attacks”401. Posner’s formulation would
indicate that the State does have a legitimate interest when it monitors the web to
secure the nation against cyber attacks and the activities of terrorists.
180 While it intervenes to protect legitimate state interests, the state must
nevertheless put into place a robust regime that ensures the fulfilment of a three-fold
requirement. These three requirements apply to all restraints on privacy (not just
informational privacy). They emanate from the procedural and content-based
mandate of Article 21. The first requirement that there must be a law in existence to
justify an encroachment on privacy is an express requirement of Article 21. For, no
person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the
procedure established by law. The existence of law is an essential requirement.
Second, the requirement of a need, in terms of a legitimate state aim, ensures that
the nature and content of the law which imposes the restriction falls within the zone of
reasonableness mandated by Article 14, which is a guarantee against arbitrary state
action. The pursuit of a legitimate state aim ensures that the law does not suffer from
400 Ibid
401 Ibid
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manifest arbitrariness. Legitimacy, as a postulate, involves a value judgment. Judicial
review does not re-appreciate or second guess the value judgment of the legislature
but is for deciding whether the aim which is sought to be pursued suffers from palpable
or manifest arbitrariness. The third requirement ensures that the means which are
adopted by the legislature are proportional to the object and needs sought to be
fulfilled by the law. Proportionality is an essential facet of the guarantee against
arbitrary state action because it ensures that the nature and quality of the
encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law. Hence,
the three-fold requirement for a valid law arises out of the mutual inter-dependence
between the fundamental guarantees against arbitrariness on the one hand and the
protection of life and personal liberty, on the other. The right to privacy, which is an
intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty, and the freedoms embodied in Part III is
subject to the same restraints which apply to those freedoms.
181 Apart from national security, the state may have justifiable reasons for the
collection and storage of data. In a social welfare state, the government embarks
upon programmes which provide benefits to impoverished and marginalised sections
of society. There is a vital state interest in ensuring that scarce public resources are
not dissipated by the diversion of resources to persons who do not qualify as
recipients. Allocation of resources for human development is coupled with a legitimate
concern that the utilisation of resources should not be siphoned away for extraneous
purposes. Data mining with the object of ensuring that resources are properly
deployed to legitimate beneficiaries is a valid ground for the state to insist on the
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collection of authentic data. But, the data which the state has collected has to be
utilised for legitimate purposes of the state and ought not to be utilised unauthorizedly
for extraneous purposes. This will ensure that the legitimate concerns of the state are
duly safeguarded while, at the same time, protecting privacy concerns. Prevention
and investigation of crime and protection of the revenue are among the legitimate
aims of the state. Digital platforms are a vital tool of ensuring good governance in a
social welfare state. Information technology – legitimately deployed is a powerful
enabler in the spread of innovation and knowledge.
182 A distinction has been made in contemporary literature between anonymity on
one hand and privacy on the other.402 Both anonymity and privacy prevent others from
gaining access to pieces of personal information yet they do so in opposite ways.
Privacy involves hiding information whereas anonymity involves hiding what makes it
personal. An unauthorised parting of the medical records of an individual which have
been furnished to a hospital will amount to an invasion of privacy. On the other hand,
the state may assert a legitimate interest in analysing data borne from hospital records
to understand and deal with a public health epidemic such as malaria or dengue to
obviate a serious impact on the population. If the State preserves the anonymity of the
individual it could legitimately assert a valid state interest in the preservation of public
health to design appropriate policy interventions on the basis of the data available to
it.
402 See in this connection, Jeffrey M. Skopek, “Reasonable Expectations of Anonymity”, Virginia Law Review
(2015), Vol.101, at pages 691-762
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257
183 Privacy has been held to be an intrinsic element of the right to life and personal
liberty under Article 21 and as a constitutional value which is embodied in the
fundamental freedoms embedded in Part III of the Constitution. Like the right to life
and liberty, privacy is not absolute. The limitations which operate on the right to life
and personal liberty would operate on the right to privacy. Any curtailment or
deprivation of that right would have to take place under a regime of law. The procedure
established by law must be fair, just and reasonable. The law which provides for the
curtailment of the right must also be subject to constitutional safeguards.
184 The Union government constituted a Group of Experts on privacy under the
auspices of the erstwhile Planning Commission. The Expert Group in its Report403
(dated 16 October 2012) proposed a framework for the protection of privacy concerns
which, it was expected, would serve as a conceptual foundation for legislation
protecting privacy. The framework suggested by the expert group was based on five
salient features: (i) Technological neutrality and interoperability with international
standards; (ii) Multi-Dimensional privacy; (iii) Horizontal applicability to state and nonstate
entities; (iv) Conformity with privacy principles; and (v) A co-regulatory
enforcement regime. After reviewing international best practices, the Expert Group
proposed nine privacy principles. They are:
403 “Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy” (16 October, 2012), Government of India, available at
http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_privacy.pdf
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(i) Notice: A data controller shall give simple-to-understand notice of its information
practices to all individuals in clear and concise language, before personal
information is collected;
(ii) Choice and Consent: A data controller shall give individuals choices (opt-in/optout)
with regard to providing their personal information, and take individual
consent only after providing notice of its information practices;
(iii) Collection Limitation: A data controller shall only collect personal information
from data subjects as is necessary for the purposes identified for such collection,
regarding which notice has been provided and consent of the individual taken.
Such collection shall be through lawful and fair means;
(iv) Purpose Limitation: Personal data collected and processed by data controllers
should be adequate and relevant to the purposes for which it is processed. A data
controller shall collect, process, disclose, make available, or otherwise use
personal information only for the purposes as stated in the notice after taking
consent of individuals. If there is a change of purpose, this must be notified to the
individual. After personal information has been used in accordance with the
identified purpose it should be destroyed as per the identified procedures. Data
retention mandates by the government should be in compliance with the National
Privacy Principles;
(v) Access and Correction: Individuals shall have access to personal information
about them held by a data controller; shall be able to seek correction,
amendments, or deletion of such information where it is inaccurate; be able to
confirm that a data controller holds or is processing information about them; be
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able to obtain from the data controller a copy of the personal data. Access and
correction to personal information may not be given by the data controller if it is
not, despite best efforts, possible to do so without affecting the privacy rights of
another person, unless that person has explicitly consented to disclosure;
(vi) Disclosure of Information: A data controller shall not disclose personal information
to third parties, except after providing notice and seeking informed consent from
the individual for such disclosure. Third parties are bound to adhere to relevant
and applicable privacy principles. Disclosure for law enforcement purposes must
be in accordance with the laws in force. Data controllers shall not publish or in any
other way make public personal information, including personal sensitive
information;
(vii) Security: A data controller shall secure personal information that they have either
collected or have in their custody, by reasonable security safeguards against loss,
unauthorised access, destruction, use, processing, storage, modification,
deanonymization, unauthorized disclosure [either accidental or incidental] or other
reasonably foreseeable risks;
(viii) Openness: A data controller shall take all necessary steps to implement
practices, procedures, policies and systems in a manner proportional to the scale,
scope, and sensitivity to the data they collect, in order to ensure compliance with
the privacy principles, information regarding which shall be made in an intelligible
form, using clear and plain language, available to all individuals; and
(ix) Accountability: The data controller shall be accountable for complying with
measures which give effect to the privacy principles. Such measures should
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260
include mechanisms to implement privacy policies; including tools, training, and
education; external and internal audits, and requiring organizations or overseeing
bodies extend all necessary support to the Privacy Commissioner and comply
with the specific and general orders of the Privacy Commissioner.
185 During the course of the hearing of these proceedings, the Union government
has placed on the record an Office Memorandum dated 31 July 2017 by which it has
constituted a committee chaired by Justice B N Srikrishna, former Judge of the
Supreme Court of India to review inter alia data protection norms in the country and
to make its recommendations. The terms of reference of the Committee are :
a) To study various issues relating to data protection in India;
b) To make specific suggestions for consideration of the Central Government
on principles to be considered for data protection in India and suggest a
draft data protection bill.
Since the government has initiated the process of reviewing the entire area of data
protection, it would be appropriate to leave the matter for expert determination so that
a robust regime for the protection of data is put into place. We expect that the Union
government shall follow up on its decision by taking all necessary and proper steps.
T Our Conclusions
1 The judgment in M P Sharma holds essentially that in the absence of a provision
similar to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, the right to privacy cannot
PART T
261
be read into the provisions of Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution. The judgment
does not specifically adjudicate on whether a right to privacy would arise from any
of the other provisions of the rights guaranteed by Part III including Article 21 and
Article 19. The observation that privacy is not a right guaranteed by the Indian
Constitution is not reflective of the correct position. M P Sharma is overruled to the
extent to which it indicates to the contrary.
2 Kharak Singh has correctly held that the content of the expression ‘life’ under
Article 21 means not merely the right to a person’s “animal existence” and that the
expression ‘personal liberty’ is a guarantee against invasion into the sanctity of a
person’s home or an intrusion into personal security. Kharak Singh also correctly
laid down that the dignity of the individual must lend content to the meaning of
‘personal liberty’. The first part of the decision in Kharak Singh which invalidated
domiciliary visits at night on the ground that they violated ordered liberty is an
implicit recognition of the right to privacy. The second part of the decision,
however, which holds that the right to privacy is not a guaranteed right under our
Constitution, is not reflective of the correct position. Similarly, Kharak Singh’s
reliance upon the decision of the majority in Gopalan is not reflective of the correct
position in view of the decisions in Cooper and in Maneka. Kharak Singh to the
extent that it holds that the right to privacy is not protected under the Indian
Constitution is overruled.
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3 (A) Life and personal liberty are inalienable rights. These are rights which are
inseparable from a dignified human existence. The dignity of the individual,
equality between human beings and the quest for liberty are the foundational pillars
of the Indian Constitution;
(B) Life and personal liberty are not creations of the Constitution. These rights are
recognised by the Constitution as inhering in each individual as an intrinsic and
inseparable part of the human element which dwells within;
(C) Privacy is a constitutionally protected right which emerges primarily from the
guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article 21 of the Constitution. Elements of
privacy also arise in varying contexts from the other facets of freedom and dignity
recognised and guaranteed by the fundamental rights contained in Part III;
(D) Judicial recognition of the existence of a constitutional right of privacy is not an
exercise in the nature of amending the Constitution nor is the Court embarking on
a constitutional function of that nature which is entrusted to Parliament;
(E)Privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity. Privacy has both a normative
and descriptive function. At a normative level privacy sub-serves those eternal
values upon which the guarantees of life, liberty and freedom are founded. At a
descriptive level, privacy postulates a bundle of entitlements and interests which
lie at the foundation of ordered liberty;
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263
(F)Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of
family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. Privacy also
connotes a right to be left alone. Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and
recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life.
Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy. Privacy protects
heterogeneity and recognises the plurality and diversity of our culture. While the
legitimate expectation of privacy may vary from the intimate zone to the private
zone and from the private to the public arenas, it is important to underscore that
privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place.
Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the
human being;
(G) This Court has not embarked upon an exhaustive enumeration or a catalogue of
entitlements or interests comprised in the right to privacy. The Constitution must
evolve with the felt necessities of time to meet the challenges thrown up in a
democratic order governed by the rule of law. The meaning of the Constitution
cannot be frozen on the perspectives present when it was adopted. Technological
change has given rise to concerns which were not present seven decades ago
and the rapid growth of technology may render obsolescent many notions of the
present. Hence the interpretation of the Constitution must be resilient and flexible
to allow future generations to adapt its content bearing in mind its basic or
essential features;
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264
(H)Like other rights which form part of the fundamental freedoms protected by Part
III, including the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, privacy is not an
absolute right. A law which encroaches upon privacy will have to withstand the
touchstone of permissible restrictions on fundamental rights. In the context of
Article 21 an invasion of privacy must be justified on the basis of a law which
stipulates a procedure which is fair, just and reasonable. The law must also be
valid with reference to the encroachment on life and personal liberty under Article
21. An invasion of life or personal liberty must meet the three-fold requirement of
(i) legality, which postulates the existence of law; (ii) need, defined in terms of a
legitimate state aim; and (iii) proportionality which ensures a rational nexus
between the objects and the means adopted to achieve them; and
(I) Privacy has both positive and negative content. The negative content restrains the
state from committing an intrusion upon the life and personal liberty of a citizen. Its
positive content imposes an obligation on the state to take all necessary measures
to protect the privacy of the individual.
4 Decisions rendered by this Court subsequent to Kharak Singh, upholding the right
to privacy would be read subject to the above principles.
5 Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in
an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors
as well. We commend to the Union Government the need to examine and put into
place a robust regime for data protection. The creation of such a regime requires
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265
a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate
concerns of the state. The legitimate aims of the state would include for instance
protecting national security, preventing and investigating crime, encouraging
innovation and the spread of knowledge, and preventing the dissipation of social
welfare benefits. These are matters of policy to be considered by the Union
government while designing a carefully structured regime for the protection of the
data. Since the Union government has informed the Court that it has constituted a
Committee chaired by Hon’ble Shri Justice B N Srikrishna, former Judge of this
Court, for that purpose, the matter shall be dealt with appropriately by the Union
government having due regard to what has been set out in this judgment.
6 The reference is answered in the above terms.
...........................................CJI
[JAGDISH SINGH KHEHAR]
..............................................J
[R K AGRAWAL]
..............................................J
[Dr D Y CHANDRACHUD]
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266
.............................................J
[S ABDUL NAZEER]
New Delhi;
Dated : 24, August 2017
Reportable
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Another … Petitioners
Versus
Union of India & Others … Respondents
WITH
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.151 OF 2013
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.152 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 833 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 829 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 932 OF 2013
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 144 OF 2014
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 313 OF 2014
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 312 OF 2014
SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 2524 OF 2014
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 37 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 220 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 674 OF 2015
IN
2
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 829 OF 2013
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 921 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 470 OF 2015
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 444 OF 2016
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 608 OF 2016
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 797 OF 2016
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 844 OF 2017
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 342 OF 2017
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 372 OF 2017
J U D G M E N T
Chelameswar, J.
1. I have had the advantage of reading the opinion of my learned
brothers Justice Nariman and Justice Chandrachud. Both of them
in depth dealt with various questions that are required to be
examined by this Bench, to answer the reference. The factual
background in which these questions arise and the history of the
3
instant litigation is set out in the judgments of my learned brothers.
There is no need to repeat. Having regard to the importance of the
matter, I am unable to desist recording few of my views regarding
the various questions which were debated in this matter.
2. The following three questions, in my opinion, constitute the
crux of the enquiry;
(i) Is there any Fundamental Right to Privacy under the
Constitution of India?
(ii) If it exists, where is it located?
(iii) What are the contours of such Right?
3. These questions arose because Union of India and some of the
respondents took a stand that, in view of two larger bench
judgments of this Court1, no fundamental right of privacy is
guaranteed under the Constitution.
4. Therefore, at the outset, it is necessary to examine whether it
is the ratio decidendi of M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh that under
our Constitution there is no Fundamental Right of Privacy; and if
that be indeed the ratio of either of the two rulings whether they
were rightly decided? The issue which fell for the consideration of
1 M.P. Sharma & Others v. Satish Chandra & Others, AIR 1954 SC 300 and Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. &
Others, AIR 1963 SC 1295, (both decisions of Constitution Bench of Eight and Six Judges respectively).
4
this Court in M.P. Sharma was – whether seizure of documents from
the custody of a person accused of an offence would amount to
“testimonial compulsion” prohibited under Article 20(3) of our
Constitution?
5. The rule against the “testimonial compulsion” is contained in
Article 20(3)2 of our Constitution. The expression “testimonial
compulsion” is not found in that provision. The mandate contained
in Article 20(3) came to be described as the rule against testimonial
compulsion. The rule against self-incrimination owes its origin to
the revulsion against the inquisitorial methods adopted by the Star
Chamber of England3 and the same was incorporated in the Fifth
Amendment of the American Constitution.4
2
“Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India: “No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness
against himself.”
3
“In English law, this principle of protection against self-incrimination had a historical origin. It resulted from a
feeling of revulsion against the inquisitorial methods adopted and the barbarous sentences imposed, by the Court of
Star Chamber, in the exercise of its criminal jurisdiction. This came to a head in the case of John Lilburn, 3 State
Trials 1315, which brought about the abolition of the Star Chamber and the firm recognition of the principle that the
accused should not be put on oath and that no evidence should be taken from him. This principle, in course of time,
developed into its logical extensions, by way of privilege of witnesses against self-incrimination, when called for
giving oral testimony or for production of documents. A change was introduced by the Criminal Evidence Act of
1898 by making an accused a competent witness on his own behalf, if he applied for it. But so far as the oral
testimony of witnesses and the production of documents are concerned, the protection against self-incrimination
continued as before. (See Phipson on Evidence, 9th Edition, pages 215 and 474).
These principles, as they were before the statutory change in 1898, were carried into the American legal system
and became part of its common law. (See Wigmore on Evidence, Vol.VIII, pages 301 to 303). This was later on
incorporated into their Constitution by virtue of the Fifth Amendment thereof.”
4
“Amendment V of the American Constitution: "No person ……..shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a
witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …"
5
6. Does the rule against “testimonial compulsion”, entrenched as
a fundamental right under our Constitution create a right of
privacy? - is a question not examined in M.P. Sharma. It was
argued in M.P. Sharma “that a search to obtain documents for investigation
into an offence is a compulsory procuring of incriminatory evidence from the
accused himself and is, therefore, hit by Article 20(3) …” by necessary
implication flowing from “certain canons of liberal construction”. Originally
the rule was invoked only against oral evidence. But the judgment
in Boyd v. United States5, extended the rule even to documents
procured during the course of a constitutionally impermissible
search6.
This Court refused to read the principle enunciated in Boyd
into Article 20(3) on the ground: “we have nothing in our Constitution
corresponding to the Fourth Amendment”.
This Court held that the power of search and seizure is “an
overriding power of the State for the protection of social security”. It further
held that such power (1) “is necessarily regulated by law”; and (2) Since the
Constitution makers have not made any provision “analogous to the
5
116 US 616
6
A search in violation of the safeguards provided under the Fourth Amendment – “The right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
6
American Fourth Amendment”, such a requirement could not be read into
Article 20(3).
It was in the said context that this Court referred to the right
of privacy:
“A power of search and seizure is in any system of jurisprudence an
overriding power of the State for the protection of social security and
that power is necessarily regulated by law. When the Constitution
makers have thought fit not to subject such regulation to
Constitutional limitations by recognition of a fundamental right to
privacy, analogous to the American Fourth Amendment, we have
no justification to import it, into a totally different fundamental
right, by some process of strained construction.”
7. I see no warrant for a conclusion (which is absolute) that their
lordships held that there is no right of privacy under our
Constitution. All that, in my opinion, their Lordships meant to say
was that contents of the U.S. Fourth Amendment cannot be
imported into our Constitution, while interpreting Article 20(3).
That is the boundary of M.P. Singh’s ratio. Such a conclusion, in
my opinion, requires a further examination in an appropriate
case since it is now too well settled that the text of the
Constitution is only the primary source for understanding the
Constitution and the silences of the Constitution are also to
be ascertained to understand the Constitution. Even according to
the American Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment is not the
7
sole repository of the right to privacy7. Therefore, values other than
those informing the Fourth Amendment can ground a right of
privacy if such values are a part of the Indian Constitutional
framework, and M.P. Sharma does not contemplate this possibility
nor was there an occasion, therefore as the case was concerned
with Article 20(3). Especially so as the Gopalan era
compartmentalization ruled the roost during the time of the M.P.
Sharma ruling and there was no Maneka Gandhi interpretation of
Part III as a cohesive and fused code as is presently.
Whether the right of privacy is implied in any other
fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 21, 14, 19 or 25 etc.
was not examined in M.P Sharma. The question whether a
fundamental right of privacy is implied from these Articles, is
therefore, res integra and M.P. Sharma is no authority on that
aspect. I am, therefore, of the opinion that M.P. Sharma is not an
authority for an absolute proposition that there is no right of
privacy under our Constitution; and such is not the ratio of that
judgment.
7
In Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 US 479, Douglas, J who delivered the opinion of the Court opined that the I, II,
IV, V and IX Amendments creates zones of privacy. Goldberg, J. opined that even the XIV Amendment creates a
zone of privacy. This undoubtedly grounds a right of privacy beyond the IV amendment. Even after Griswold, other
cases like Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) have made this point amply clear by sourcing a constitutional right of
privacy from sources other than the IV amendment.
8
8. The issue in Kharak Singh was the constitutionality of police
regulations of UP which inter alia provided for ‘surveillance’ of
certain categories of people by various methods, such as,
domiciliary visits at night’, ‘verification of movements and absences’
etc. Two judgments (4:2) were delivered. Majority took the view
that the impugned regulation insofar as it provided for ‘domiciliary
visits at night’ is unconstitutional whereas the minority opined the
impugned regulation is in its entirety unconstitutional.
The Court was invited to examine whether the impugned
regulations violated the fundamental rights of Kharak Singh
guaranteed under Articles 21 and 19(1)(d). In that context, this
Court examined the scope of the expression ‘personal liberty’
guaranteed under Article 21. Majority declared that the expression
“personal liberty” occurring under Article 21: “is used in the Article as
compendious term to include within itself all the varieties of rights which go to make up the
“personal liberties” of man other than those dealt with in several clauses of Article 19(1)”. In
other words, while Article 19(1) deals with particular species or attributes of that freedom,
personal liberty in Article 21 takes in and comprises the residue.”
9. The Kharak Singh majority opined that the impugned
regulation insofar as it provided for ‘domiciliary visits’ is plainly
9
“violative of Article 21”. The majority took note of the American decision
in Wolf v. Colorado, 338 US 25 wherein it was held that State lacks
the authority to sanction “incursion into privacy” of citizens. Such a
power would run counter to the guarantee of the Fourteenth
Amendment8 and against the “very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty”.
9 The
majority judgment in Kharak Singh noticed that the conclusion
recorded in Wolf v. Colorado is based on the prohibition contained
in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and a
corresponding provision is absent in our Constitution. Nonetheless,
their Lordships concluded that the impugned regulation insofar as
it sanctioned domiciliary visits is plainly violative of Article 21. For
this conclusion, their Lordships relied upon the English Common
Law maxim that “every man's house is his castle"10. In substance
domiciliary visits violate liberty guaranteed under Article 21.
The twin conclusions recorded, viz., that Article 21 takes
within its sweep various rights other than mere freedom from
physical restraint; and domiciliary visits by police violate the right
of Kharak Singh guaranteed under Article 21, are a great leap from
8
Frankfurter, J.
9
Murphy, J.
10 See (1604) 5 Coke 91 – Semayne’s case
10
the law declared by this Court in Gopalan11 - much before R.C.
Cooper12 and Maneka Gandhi13 cases. The logical inconsistency in
the judgment is that while on the one hand their Lordships opined
that the maxim “every man’s house is his castle” is a part of the liberty
under Article 21, concluded on the other, that absence of a
provision akin to the U.S. Fourth Amendment would negate the
claim to the right of privacy. Both statements are logically
inconsistent. In the earlier part of the judgment their Lordships
noticed14 that it is the English Common Law which formed the basis
of the U.S. Fourth Amendment and is required to be read into
Article 21; but nevertheless declined to read the right of privacy into
Article 21. This is the incongruence.
10. Interestingly as observed by Justice Nariman, when it came to
the constitutionality of the other provisions impugned in Kharak
Singh, their Lordships held that such provisions are not violative of
Article 21 since there is no right to privacy under our
11 A.K. Gopalan Vs. State of Madras AIR 1950 SC 27
12 RC Cooper Vs. Union of India (1970) 1 SCC 248
13 Maneka Gandhi Vs. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248
14 See F/N 3 (supra)
11
Constitution15. I completely endorse the view of my learned brother
Nariman in this regard.
11. I now proceed to examine the salient features of the minority
view.
(i) Disagreement with the majority on the conclusion
that Article 21 contains those aspects of personal
liberty excluding those enumerated under Article
19(1);
(ii) after noticing that Gopalan held that the expression
“personal liberty” occurring under Article 21 is only
the antithesis of physical restraint or coercion,
opined that in modern world coercion need not only
be physical coercion but can also take the form of
psychological coercion;
(iii) “further the right to personal liberty takes in not only a right to be free
from restrictions placed on his movements, but also free from
encroachments on his private life.”;
15 Nor do we consider that Article 21 has any relevance in the context as was sought to be suggested by learned
Counsel for the petitioner. As already pointed out, the right of privacy is not a guaranteed right under our
Constitution and therefore the attempt to ascertain the movements of an individual which is merely a manner in
which privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a fundamental right guaranteed by Part III.
12
(iv) Though “our Constitution does not expressly declare the right to
privacy as a fundamental right”, “the said right is an essential
ingredient of personal liberty”.
In substance Kharak Singh declared that the expression
“personal liberty” in Article 21 takes within its sweep a bundle of
rights. Both the majority and minority are ad idem on that
conclusion. The only point of divergence is that the minority opined
that one of the rights in the bundle is the right of privacy. In the
opinion of the minority the right to privacy is “an essential ingredient of
personal liberty”. Whereas the majority opined that “the right of privacy
is not a guaranteed right under our Constitution”, and therefore the same
cannot be read into Article 21.16
12. I am of the opinion that the approach adopted by the majority
is illogical and against settled principles of interpretation of even an
ordinary statute; and wholly unwarranted in the context of
constitutional interpretation. If a right is recognised by the express
language of a statute, no question of implying such a right from
16 Kharak Singh v. The State of U.P. & Others, (1962) 1 SCR 332 at page 351
“… Nor do we consider that Article 21 has any relevance in the context as was sought to be suggested by
learned Counsel for the petitioner. As already pointed out, the right of privacy is not a guaranteed right
under our Constitution and therefore the attempt to ascertain the movements of an individual which is
merely a manner in which privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a fundamental right guaranteed by
Part III.”
13
some provision of such statute arises. Implications are logical
extensions of stipulations in the express language of the statute
and arise only when a statute is silent on certain aspects.
Implications are the product of the interpretative process, of
silences of a Statute. It is by now well settled that there are
implications even in written Constitutions.17 The scope and
amplitude of implications are to be ascertained in the light of the
scheme and purpose sought to be achieved by a statute. The
purpose of the statute is to be ascertained from the overall scheme
of the statute. Constitution is the fundamental law adumbrating
the powers and duties of the various organs of the State and rights
of the SUBJECTS18 and limitations thereon, of the State. In my
opinion, provisions purportedly conferring power on the State are in
fact limitations on the State power to infringe on the liberty of
SUBJECTS. In the context of the interpretation of a Constitution
17
(1947) 74 CLR 31 – The Melbourne Corporation v. The Commonwealth
“ ... Thus, the purpose of the Constitution, and the scheme by which it is intended to be given effect,
necessarily give rise to implications as to the manner in which the Commonwealth and the States
respectively may exercise their powers, vis-à-vis each other.”
Also see: His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru v. State of Kerala & Another, (1973) 4 SCC
225
18 Citizens and non-citizens who are amenable to the Constitutional authority of the State
14
the intensity of analysis to ascertain the purpose is required to be
more profound.19
The implications arising from the scheme of the Constitution
are “Constitution’s dark matter” and are as important as the
express stipulations in its text. The principle laid down by this
Court in Kesvananda20, that the basic structure of the Constitution
cannot be abrogated is the most outstanding and brilliant
exposition of the ‘dark matter’ and is a part of our Constitution,
though there is nothing in the text suggesting that principle. The
19 Two categories of Constitutional interpretation - textualist and living constitutionalist approach are well known.
The former, as is illustrated by the Gopalan case, focuses on the text at hand i.e. the language of the relevant
provision. The text and the intent of the original framers are determinative under the textualist approach. The living
constitutionalist approach, while acknowledging the importance of the text, takes into account a variety of factors as
aids to interpret the text. Depending on the nature of factor used, academics have added further nuance to the this
approach of interpretation (For instance, in his book titled ‘Constitutional Interpretation’ (which builds on his earlier
work titled ‘Constitutional Fate’), Philip Bobbitt categorizes the six approaches to interpretation of Constitutions as
historical, textual, prudential, doctrinal, structural, and ethical. The latter four approaches treat the text as less
determinative than the former two approaches).
This court has progressively adopted a living constitutionalist approach. Varyingly, it has interpreted the
Constitutional text by reference to Constitutional values (liberal democratic ideals which form the bedrock on which
our text sits); a mix of cultural, social, political and historical ethos which surround our Constitutional text; a
structuralist technique typified by looking at the structural divisions of power within the Constitution and
interpreting it as an integrated whole etc. This court need not, in the abstract, fit a particular interpretative technique
within specific pigeonholes of a living constitutionalist interpretation. Depending on which particular source is most
useful and what the matter at hand warrants, the court can resort to variants of a living constitutionalist
interpretation. This lack of rigidity allows for an enduring constitution.
The important criticisms against the living constitutionalist approach are that of uncertainty and that it can lead to
arbitrary exercise of judicial power. The living constitutionalist approach in my view is preferable despite these
criticisms, for two reasons. First, adaptability cannot be equated to lack of discipline in judicial reasoning. Second, it
is still the text of the constitution which acquires the requisite interpretative hues and therefore, it is not as if there is
violence being perpetrated upon the text if one resorts to the living constitutionalist approach.
20
His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Others. v. State of Kerala & Another (1973) 4 SCC 225
15
necessity of probing seriously and respectfully into the invisible
portion of the Constitution cannot be ignored without being
disrespectful to the hard earned political freedom and the declared
aspirations of the liberty of ‘we the people of India’. The text of
enumerated fundamental rights is “only the primary source of expressed
information” as to what is meant by liberty proclaimed by the
preamble of the Constitution.
13. To embrace a rule that the text of the Constitution is the only
material to be looked at to understand the purpose and scheme of
the Constitution would not only be detrimental to liberties of
SUBJECTS but could also render the administration of the State
unduly cumbersome. Fortunately, this Court did not adopt such a
rule of interpretation barring exceptions like Gopalan (supra) and
ADM Jabalpur21. Else, this Court could not have found the freedom
of press under Article 19(1)(a) and the other rights22 which were
21 ADM Jabalpur Vs. S.S. Shukla AIR 1976 SC 1207
22 Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. & Others etc. v. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305 at page 311
“Para 28. It must be borne in mind that the Constitution must be interpreted in a broad way and not in a narrow
and pedantic sense. Certain rights have been enshrined in our Constitution as fundamental and, therefore, while
considering the nature and content of those rights the Court must not be too astute to interpret the language of
the Constitution in so literal a sense as to whittle them down. On the other hand the Court must interpret the
Constitution in a manner which would enable the citizen to enjoy the rights guaranteed by it in the fullest
measure subject, of course, to permissible restrictions. Bearing this principle in mind it would be clear that the
right to freedom of speech and expression carries with it the right to publish and circulate one's ideas, opinions
and views with complete freedom and by resorting to any available means of publication, subject again to such
restrictions as could be legitimately imposed under clause (2) of Article 19. The first decision of this Court in
which this was recognized is Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.. There, this Court held that
16
held to be flowing from the guarantee under Article 21. Romesh
Thappar23 and Sakal Papers (supra) are the earliest
acknowledgment by this Court of the existence of Constitution’s
dark matter. The series of cases in which this Court subsequently
perceived various rights in the expression ‘life’ in Article 21 is a
resounding confirmation of such acknowledgment.
14. The U.S. VIth Amendment confers a “right to speedy and public
trial” to the accused, the right “to be informed of the nature and cause of
the accusation”, the right to have the “assistance of counsel for his defence”
etc. None of those rights are expressed in the text of our
Constitution. Nonetheless, this Court declared these rights as
implicit in the text of Articles 14 or 21. The VIIIth Amendment24 of
the American Constitution contains stipulations prohibiting
excessive bails, fines, cruel and unusual punishments etc. Cruel
punishments were not unknown to this country. They were in
vogue in the middle ages. Flaying a man alive was one of the
freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas and that this freedom is ensured by
the freedom of circulation. In that case this Court has also pointed out that freedom of speech and expression are
the foundation of all democratic organisations and are essential for the proper functioning of the processes of
democracy. ...”
23 Romesh Thappar Vs. State of Madras AIR 1950 SC 124
24“VIII Amendment to the American Constitution:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments
inflicted.”
17
favoured punishments of some of the Rulers of those days. I only
hope that this Court would have no occasion to hear an argument
that the Parliament or State legislatures would be constitutionally
competent to prescribe cruel punishments like amputation or
blinding or flaying alive of convicts merely an account of a
prescription akin to the VIIIth Amendment being absent in our
Constitution.25
15. This Court by an interpretive process read the right to earn a
livelihood26, the right to education27, the right to speedy trial28, the
right to protect one’s reputation29 and the right to have an
environment free of pollution30 in the expression ‘life’ under Article
21 of the Indian Constitution.
Similarly, the right to go abroad31 and the right to speedy trial
of criminal cases32 were read into the expression liberty occurring
25 Mithu Etc. Vs. State of Punjab Etc. Etc., AIR 1983 SC 473 - “If a law were to provide that the offence of theft will
be punishable with the penalty of the cutting of hands, the law will be bad as violating Article 21. A savage
sentence is anathema to the civilized jurisprudence of Article 21.”
26 Olga Tellis Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) 3 SCC 545
27 Mohini Jain Vs. State of Karnataka (1992) 3 SCC 666, Unnikrishnan J.P. Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) 1
SCC 645
28 Mansukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan Vs. State of Gujarat (1997) 7 SCC 622
29 State of Bihar Vs. Lal Krishna Advani (2003) 8 SCC 361
30 Shantistar Builders Vs. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990) 1 SCC 520, M.C. Mehta Vs. Kamal Nath (2000) 6 SCC
2013
31 Satwant Singh Sawhney Vs. Asst. Passport Officer 1967 (3) SCR 525,
32 In Re. Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. Vs. Home Secretary, Home Secretary, Bihar (1980) 1 SCC 81
18
under Article 21. This court found delayed execution of capital
punishment violated both the rights of life and ‘liberty’ guaranteed
under Article 2133 and also perceived reproductive rights and the
individual’s autonomy regarding sterilization to being inherent in
the rights of life and liberty under Art. 2134.
16. None of the above-mentioned rights are to be found anywhere
in the text of the Constitution.
17. To sanctify an argument that whatever is not found in the text
of the Constitution cannot become a part of the Constitution would
be too primitive an understanding of the Constitution and contrary
to settled cannons of constitutional interpretation. Such an
approach regarding the rights and liberties of citizens would be an
affront to the collective wisdom of our people and the wisdom of the
members of the Constituent Assembly. The fact that some of the
members opined during the course of debates in that Assembly,
that the right of privacy need not find an express mention in the
Constitution, would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they
were oblivious to the importance of the right to privacy.
33 Vatheeswaran, T.V. Vs. State of T.N. (1983) 2 SCC 68
34 Devika Biswas Vs. Union of India (2016) 10 SCC 726
19
Constituent Assembly was not a seminar on the right to privacy and
its amplitude. A close scrutiny of the debates reveals that the
Assembly only considered whether there should be an express
provision guaranteeing the right of privacy in the limited context of
‘searches’ and ‘secrecy of correspondence’. Dimensions of the right
of privacy are much larger and were not fully examined. The
question whether the expression ‘liberty’ in Article 21 takes within
its sweep the various aspects of the right of privacy was also not
debated. The submissions before us revolve around these
questions. Petitioners assert that the right to privacy is a part of
the rights guaranteed under Article 19 and 21 and other Articles.
18. The Constitution of any country reflects the aspirations and
goals of the people of that country voiced through the language of
the few chosen individuals entrusted with the responsibility of
framing its Constitution. Such aspirations and goals depend upon
the history of that society. History invariably is a product of various
forces emanating from religious, economic and political events35.
35 However, various forces which go into the making of history are dynamic. Those who are entrusted with the
responsibility of the working of the Constitution must necessarily keep track of the dynamics of such forces.
Evolution of science and growth of technology is another major factor in the modern world which is equally a factor
to be kept in mind to successfully work the constitution.
20
The degree of refinement of the Constitution depends upon the
wisdom of the people entrusted with the responsibility of framing
the Constitution. Constitution is not merely a document signed by
284 members of the Constituent Assembly. It is a politically sacred
instrument created by men and women who risked lives and
sacrificed their liberties to fight alien rulers and secured freedom for
our people, not only of their generation but generations to follow.
The Constitution cannot be seen as a document written in ink to
replace one legal regime by another. It is a testament created for
securing the goals professed in the Preamble36. Part-III of the
Constitution is incorporated to ensure achievement of the objects
contained in the Preamble.37 ‘We the People’ of this country are the
intended beneficiaries38 of the Constitution. It must be seen as a
document written in the blood of innumerable martyrs of
36
Kesavananda Bharati (supra)
“Para 91. … Our Preamble outlines the objectives of the whole constitution. It expresses “what we had thought
or dreamt for so long”.”
37 In re, The Kerala Education Bill, 1957, AIR 1958 SC 956
“… To implement and fortify these supreme purposes set forth in the Preamble, Part III of our Constitution has
provided for us certain fundamental rights.”
38 Bidi Supply Co. v. Union of India & Others, AIR 1956 SC 479 at page 487
“Para 23. After all, for whose benefit was the Constitution enacted? What was the point of making all this other
about fundamental rights? I am clear that the Constitution is not for the exclusive benefit governments and
States; it is not only for lawyers and politicians and officials and those highly placed. It also exists for the
common man, for the poor and the humble, for those who have businesses at stake, for the “butcher, the baker
and the candlestick maker”. It lays down for this land “a rule of law” as understood in the free democracies of
the world. It constitutes India into a Sovereign Republic and guarantees in every page rights and freedom to the
side by side and consistent with the overriding power of the State to act for the common good of all.
21
Jalianwala Bagh and the like. Man is not a creature of the State.
Life and liberty are not granted by the Constitution. Constitution
only stipulates the limitations on the power of the State to interfere
with our life and liberty. Law is essential to enjoy the fruits of
liberty; it is not the source of liberty and emphatically not the
exclusive source.
19. To comprehend whether the right to privacy is a Fundamental
Right falling within the sweep of any of the Articles of Part-III, it is
necessary to understand what “fundamental right” and the “right of
privacy” mean conceptually. Rights arise out of custom, contract or
legislation, including a written Constitution. The distinction
between an ordinary legislation and an enacted Constitution is that
the latter is believed and expected to be a relatively permanent piece
of legislation which cannot be abrogated by a simple majority of
representatives elected for a limited tenure to legislative bodies
created thereby. The Constitution of any country is a document
which contains provisions specifying the rules of governance in its
different aspects. It defines the powers of the legislature and the
procedures for law making, the powers of the executive to
administer the State by enforcing the law made by the legislature
22
and the powers of the judiciary. The underlying belief is that the
Constitution of any country contains certain core political values
and beliefs of the people of that country which cannot normally be
tinkered with lightly, by transient public opinion.
20. The Constitution of India is one such piece of legislation.
Comparable are constitutions of United States of America, Canada
and Australia to mention only some. All such Constitutions apart
from containing provisions for administration of the State, contain
provisions specifying or identifying certain rights of citizens and
even some of the rights of non-citizens (both the classes of persons
could be collectively referred to as SUBJECTS for the sake of
convenience). Such rights came to be described as “basic”,
“primordial”, “inalienable” or “fundamental” rights. Such rights are
a protective wall against State’s power to destroy the liberty of the
SUBJECTS.
Irrespective of the nomenclature adopted in different
countries, such rights are believed in all democratic countries39 to
39
Bidi Supply Co. v. Union of India & Others, AIR 1956 SC 479
Para 24. I make no apology for turning to older democracies and drawing inspiration from them, for though our law
is an amalgam drawn from many sources, its firmest foundations are rooted in the freedoms of other lands where
men are free in the democratic sense of the term. England has no fundamental rights as such and its Parliament is
supreme but the liberty of the subject is guarded there as jealously as the supremacy of Parliament.”
23
be rights which cannot be abridged or curtailed totally by ordinary
legislation and unless it is established that it is so necessary to
abridge or curtail those rights in the larger interest of the society.
Several Constitutions contain provisions stipulating various
attendant conditions which any legislation intending to abridge
such (fundamental) rights is required to comply with.
21. Provisions of any written Constitution create rights and
obligations, belonging either to individuals or the body politic as
such. For example, the rights which are described as fundamental
rights in Chapter-III of our Constitution are rights of individuals
whereas provisions of dealing with elections to legislative bodies
create rights collectively in the body politic mandating periodic
elections. They also create rights in favour of individuals to
participate in such electoral process either as an elector or to
become an elected representative of the people/voters.
22. Though each of the rights created by a Constitution is of great
importance for sustenance of a democratic form of Government
chosen by us for achieving certain objectives declared in the

24
Preamble, the framers of our Constitution believed that some of the
rights enshrined in the Constitution are more crucial to the pursuit
of happiness of the people of India and, therefore, called them
fundamental rights. The belief is based on the study of human
history and the Constitution of other nations which in turn are
products of historical events.
The scheme of our Constitution is that the power of the State
is divided along a vertical axis between the Union and the States
and along the horizontal axis between the three great branches of
governance, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Such
division of power is believed to be conducive to preserving the
liberties of the people of India. The very purpose of creating a
written Constitution is to secure justice, liberty and equality to the
people of India. Framers of the Constitution believed that certain
freedoms are essential to enjoy the fruits of liberty and that the
State shall not be permitted to trample upon those freedoms except
for achieving certain important and specified objectives in the larger
interests of society. Therefore, the authority of the State for
making a law inconsistent with fundamental rights, is cabined
within constitutionally proclaimed limitations.
25
23. Provisions akin to the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under
our Constitution exist in American Constitution also40. They are
anterior to our Constitution.
24. The inter-relationship of various fundamental rights
guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution and more specifically
between Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution has been a
matter of great deal of judicial discourse starting from A.K. Gopalan.
The march of the law in this regard is recorded by Justices Nariman
and Chandrachud in detail.
25. R.C. Cooper and Maneka Gandhi gave a different orientation to
the topic. Justice Bhagwati in Maneka Gandhi speaking for the
majority opined41 that in view of the later decision of this Court in
40 The first 8 amendments to the Constitution are some of them.
41 5. ....It was in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. & Ors. that the question as to the, proper scope and meaning of the
expression personal liberty' came up pointedly for consideration for the first time before this Court. The majority of
the Judges took the view "that personal liberty' is used in the article as a compendious term to include within itself
all the varieties of rights which go to make up the ‘personal liberties' of man other than those dealt with in the
several clauses of Article 19(1). In other words, while Article 19(1) deals with particular species or attributes of that
freedom, 'personal liberty' in Article 21 takes in and comprises the residue". The minority judges, however,
disagreed with this view taken by the majority and explained their position in the following words : "No doubt the
expression 'personal liberty' is a comprehensive one and the right to move freely is an attribute of personal liberty. It
is said that the freedom to move freely is carved out of personal liberty and, therefore, the expression 'personal
liberty' in Article 21 excludes that attribute. In our view, this is not a correct approach. Both are independent
fundamental rights, though there is overlapping. There is no question of one being carved out of another. The
fundamental right of life and personal liberty has many attributes and some of them are found in Article 19. If a
person's fundamental right under Article 21 is infringed, the State can rely upon a law to sustain the action, but that
cannot be a complete answer unless the said law satisfies the test laid down in Article 19(2) so far as the attributes
covered by Article 19(1) are concerned". There can be no doubt that in view of the decision of this Court in R. C.
26
R.C. Cooper, the minority view (in Kharak Singh) must be regarded
as correct and the majority view must be held to be overruled.
Consequently, it was held that any law which deprives any person
of the liberty guaranteed under Article 21 must not only be just, fair
and reasonable, but must also satisfy that it does not at the same
time violate one or some of the other fundamental rights
enumerated under Article 19, by demonstrating that the law is
strictly in compliance with one of the corresponding clauses 2 to 6
of Article 19.42
26. In Kharak Singh, Ayyangar, J. speaking for the majority held
that the expression ‘personal liberty’ used in Article 21 is a
“compendious term to include within itself all varieties of rights which”
Cooper v. Union of India(2) the minority view must be regarded as correct and the majority view must be held to
have been overruled…….
42 6. …..The law, must, therefore, now be taken to be well settled that Article 21 does not exclude Article 19 and
that even if there is a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of 'personal liberty' and there is
consequently no infringement of the fundamental right conferred by Article 21, such law, in so far as it abridges or
takes away any fundamental right under Article 19 would have to meet the challenge of that article. This proposition
can no longer be disputed after the decisions in R. C. Cooper's case, Shambhu Nath Sarkar's case and Haradhan
Saha's case. Now, if a law depriving a person of 'personal liberty' and prescribing a procedure for that purpose
within the meaning of Article 21 has to stand the test of one or more of the fundamental rights conferred
under Article 19 which may be applicable in a given situation, ex hypothesi it must also be liable to be tested with
reference to Article 14. This was in fact not disputed by the learned Attorney General and indeed he could not do so
in view of the clear and categorical statement made by Mukharjea, J., in A. K. Gopalan's case that Article 21
"presupposes that the law is a valid and binding law under the provisions of the Constitution having regard to the
competence of the legislature and the subject it relates to and does not infringe any of the fundamental rights which
the Constitution provides for", including Article 14.....
27
constitute the “personal liberties of a man other than those specified in the
several clauses of Article 19(1).” In other words, Article 19(1) deals with
particular “species or attributes of personal liberty” mentioned in Article
21. “Article 21 takes in and comprises the residue.” Such a construction
was not accepted by the minority. The minority opined that both
Articles 19 and 21 are independent fundamental rights but they are
overlapping.43
27. An analysis of Kharak Singh reveals that the minority opined
that the right to move freely is an attribute of personal liberty.
Minority only disputed the correctness of the proposition that by
enumerating certain freedoms in Article 19(1), the makers of the
Constitution excluded those freedoms from the expression liberty in
Article 21. The minority opined that both the freedoms enumerated
in Article 19(1) and 21 are independent fundamental rights, though
there is “overlapping”.
The expression ‘liberty’ is capable of taking within its sweep
not only the right to move freely, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(d);
43 No doubt the expression “personal liberty” is a comprehensive one and the right to move freely is an attribute of
personal liberty. It is said that the freedom to move freely is carved out of personal liberty and, therefore, the
expression “personal liberty” in Art. 21 excludes that attribute. In our view, this is not a correct approach. Both
are independent fundamental rights, though there is overlapping.
28
but also each one of the other freedoms mentioned under Article
19(1). Personal liberty takes within its sweep not only the right not
to be subjected to physical restraints, but also the freedom of
thought, belief, emotion and sensation and a variety of other
freedoms. The most basic understanding of the expression liberty
is the freedom of an individual to do what he pleases. But the idea
of liberty is more complex than that. Abraham Lincoln’s
statement44 that our nation “was conceived in liberty” is equally
relevant in the context of the proclamation contained in our
Preamble; and as evocatively expressed in the words of Justice
Brandies;
“Those who won our independence believed that the final end
of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties;
and that in its government the deliberative forces should
prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end
and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of
happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.”
– Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375
28. The question now arises as to what is the purpose the framers
of the Constitution sought to achieve by specifically enumerating
some of the freedoms which otherwise would form part of the
expression ‘liberty’. To my mind the answer is that the Constituent
44 Gettysburg Speech
29
Assembly thought it fit that some aspects of liberty require a more
emphatic declaration so as to restrict the authority of the State to
abridge or curtail them. The need for such an emphatic declaration
arose from the history of this nation. In my opinion, the purpose
sought to be achieved is two-fold. Firstly, to place the expression
‘liberty’ beyond the argumentative process45 of ascertaining the
meaning of the expression liberty, and secondly, to restrict the
authority of the State to abridge those enumerated freedoms only to
achieve the purposes indicated in the corresponding clauses (2) to
(6) of Article 19.46 It must be remembered that the authority of the
45 That was exactly the State’s submission in A.K. Gopalan’s case which unfortunately found favour with this Court.
46 (2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from
making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the
said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations
with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to
an offence
(3) Nothing in sub clause (b) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes,
or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or
public order, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause
(4) Nothing in sub clause (c) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes,
or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or
public order or morality, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause
(5) Nothing in sub clauses (d) and (e) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it
imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the
rights conferred by the said sub clauses either in the interests of the general public or for the protection of the
interests of any Scheduled Tribe
(6) Nothing in sub clause (g) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes,
or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the general public, reasonable restrictions on
the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause, and, in particular, nothing in the said sub clause shall affect
the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevent the State from making any law relating to,
(i) the professional or technical qualifications necessary for practising any profession or carrying on any
occupation, trade or business, or
(ii) the carrying on by the State, or by a corporation owned or controlled by the State, of any trade,
business, industry or service, whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of citizens or otherwise
30
State to deprive any person of the fundamental right of liberty is
textually unlimited as the only requirement to enable the State to
achieve that result is to make a ‘law’. When it comes to deprivation
of the freedoms under Article 19(1), the requirement is: (a) that
there must not only be a law but such law must be tailored to
achieve the purposes indicated in the corresponding sub-Article47;
and (b) to declare that the various facets of liberty enumerated in
Article 19(1) are available only to the citizens of the country but not
all SUBJECTS.48 As it is now clearly held by this Court that the
rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 are not confined only to
citizens but available even to non-citizens aliens or incorporated
bodies even if they are incorporated in India etc.
29. The inter-relationship of Article 19 and 21, if as understood by
me, as stated in para 28, the authority of the State to deprive any
person of his liberty is circumscribed by certain factors;
(1) It can only be done under the authority of law
47 That was exactly the State’s submission in A.K. Gopalan’s case which unfortunately found favour with this Court.
48 See Hans Muller of Nurenburg Vs. Superintendent, Presidency Jail, Calcutta and Others AIR 1955 SC 367,
(Paras 34 and 38)
State Trading Corporation of India Ltd. Vs. The Commercial Tax Officer and Others, AIR 1963 SC 1811, Para 20
Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. Vs. Jasjit Singh, Additional Collector of Customs, Calcutta and Others,
AIR 1964 SC 1140, (Para 35)
Charles Sobraj Vs. Supdt. Central Jail, Tihar, New Delhi, AIR 1978 SC 104, (Para 16 )
Louis De Raedt Vs. Union of India and Others, (1991) 3 SCC 554, (Para 13)
31
(2) ‘law’ in the context means a valid legislation.
(3) If the person whose liberty is sought to be deprived is a
citizen and that liberty happens to be one of the freedoms
enumerated in Article 19(1), such a law is required to be a
reasonable within the parameters stipulated in clauses (2) to
(6) of Article 19, relevant to the nature of the entrenched
freedom/s, such law seeks to abridge.
(4) If the person whose liberty is sought to be deprived of is a
non-citizen or even if a citizen is with respect to any freedom
other than those specified in Articles 19(1), the law should be
just, fair and reasonable.
30. My endeavour qua the aforesaid analysis is only to establish
that the expression liberty in Article 21 is wide enough to take in
not only the various freedoms enumerated in Article 19(1) but also
many others which are not enumerated. I am of the opinion that a
better view of the whole scheme of the chapter on fundamental
rights is to look at each one of the guaranteed fundamental rights
not as a series of isolated points, but as a rational continuum of the
legal concept of liberty i.e. freedom from all substantial, arbitrary
32
encroachments and purposeless restraints sought to be made by
the State. Deprivation of liberty could lead to curtailment of one or
more of freedoms which a human being possesses, but for
interference by the State.
31. Whether it is possible to arrive at a coherent, integrated and
structured statement explaining the right of privacy is a question
that has been troubling scholars and judges in various jurisdictions
for decades.49 Considerable amount of literature both academic and
judicial came into existence. In this regard various taxonomies50
have been proposed suggesting that there are a number of interests
and values into which the right to privacy could be dissected.
32. Claims for protection of privacy interests can arise against the
State and its instrumentalities and against non-State entities –
such as, individuals acting in their private capacity and bodies
corporate or unincorporated associations etc., without any element
of State participation. Apart from academic literature, different
49 Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Another, (1975) 2 SCC 148
“Para 23. … The most serious advocate of privacy must confess that there are serious problems of defining the
essence and scope of the right. …”
50 For a detailed account of the taxonomy of the constitutional right to privacy in India see, Mariyam Kamil, ‘The
Structure of the Right to Privacy in India’ (MPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2015).
33
claims based on different asserted privacy interests have also found
judicial support. Cases arose in various jurisdictions in the context
of privacy interests based on (i) Common Law; (ii) statutory
recognition; and (iii) constitutionally protected claims of the right of
privacy.
33. I am of the opinion that for answering the present reference,
this Court is only concerned with the question whether SUBJECTS
who are amenable to the laws of this country have a Fundamental
Right of Privacy against the State51. The text of the Constitution is
silent in this regard. Therefore, it is required to examine whether
such a right is implied in any one or more of the Fundamental
Rights in the text of the Constitution.
34. To answer the above question, it is necessary to understand
conceptually identify the nature of the right to privacy.
35. My learned brothers have discussed various earlier decisions
of this Court and of the Courts of other countries, dealing with the
claims of the Right of Privacy. International Treaties and
Conventions have been referred to to establish the existence and
51 It is a settled principle of law that some of the Fundamental Rights like 14 and 29 are guaranteed even to noncitizens
34
recognition of the right to privacy in the various parts of the world,
and have opined that they are to be read into our Constitution in
order to conclude that there exists a Fundamental Right to privacy
under our Constitution. While Justice Nariman opined –
“94. This reference is answered by stating that the inalienable
fundamental right to privacy resides in Article 21 and other
fundamental freedoms contained in Part III of the Constitution of
India. M.P. Sharma (supra) and the majority in Kharak Singh
(supra), to the extent that they indicate to the contrary, stand
overruled. The later judgments of this Court recognizing privacy as
a fundamental right do not need to be revisited. These cases are,
therefore, sent back for adjudication on merits to the original
Bench of 3 honourable Judges of this Court in light of the
judgment just delivered by us.”
Justice Chandrachud held :
“(C) Privacy is a constitutionally protected right which emerges
primarily from the guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article
21 of the Constitution. Elements of privacy also arise in varying
contexts from the other facets of freedom and dignity recognised
and guaranteed by the fundamental rights contained in Part III;”
36. One of the earliest cases where the constitutionality of State’s
action allegedly infringing the right of privacy fell for the
consideration of the US Supreme Court is Griswold et al v.
Connecticut, 381 US 479. The Supreme Court of the United States
sustained a claim of a privacy interest on the theory that the
Constitution itself creates certain zones of privacy - ‘repose’ and
35
‘intimate decision.52 Building on this framework, Bostwick53
suggested that there are in fact, three aspects of privacy – “repose”,
“sanctuary” and “intimate decision”. “Repose” refers to freedom
from unwarranted stimuli, “sanctuary” to protection against
intrusive observation, and “intimate decision” to autonomy with
respect to the most personal life choices. Whether any other facet
of the right of privacy exists cannot be divined now. In my opinion,
there is no need to resolve all definitional concerns at an abstract
level to understand the nature of the right to privacy. The ever
growing possibilities of technological and psychological intrusions
by the State into the liberty of SUBJECTS must leave some doubt in
this context. Definitional uncertainty is no reason to not recognize
the existence of the right of privacy. For the purpose of this case, it
is sufficient to go by the understanding that the right to privacy
consists of three facets i.e. repose, sanctuary and intimate decision.
Each of these facets is so essential for the liberty of human beings
that I see no reason to doubt that the right to privacy is part of the
liberty guaranteed by our Constitution.
52Griswold v Connecticut 381 US 479 (1965) 487.
53 Gary Bostwick, ‘A Taxonomy of Privacy: Repose, Sanctuary, and Intimate Decision’ (1976) 64 California Law
Review 1447.
36
37. History abounds with examples of attempts by governments to
shape the minds of SUBJECTS. In other words, conditioning the
thought process by prescribing what to read or not to read; what
forms of art alone are required to be appreciated leading to the
conditioning of beliefs; interfering with the choice of people
regarding the kind of literature, music or art which an individual
would prefer to enjoy.54 Such conditioning is sought to be achieved
by screening the source of information or prescribing penalties for
making choices which governments do not approve.55 Insofar as
religious beliefs are concerned, a good deal of the misery our
species suffer owes its existence to and centres around competing
claims of the right to propagate religion. Constitution of India
protects the liberty of all SUBJECTS guaranteeing56 the freedom of
54 Stanley Vs. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969) - that the mere private possession of obscene matter cannot
constitutionally be made a crime….
……State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he
may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control
men’s minds.
55 (1986) 3 SCC 615, Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors vs State Of Kerala & Others
56 25. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.-
(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally
entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.
(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law-
(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with
religious practice;
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character
to all classes and sections of Hindus.
Explanation I.- The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh
religion.
37
conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate
religion. While the right to freely “profess, practice and propagate
religion” may be a facet of free speech guaranteed under Article
19(1)(a), the freedom of the belief or faith in any religion is a matter
of conscience falling within the zone of purely private thought
process and is an aspect of liberty. There are areas other than
religious beliefs which form part of the individual’s freedom of
conscience such as political belief etc. which form part of the liberty
under Article 21.
38. Concerns of privacy arise when the State seeks to intrude into
the body of SUBJECTS.57 Corporeal punishments were not
unknown to India, their abolition is of a recent vintage. Forced
feeding of certain persons by the State raises concerns of privacy.
An individual’s rights to refuse life prolonging medical treatment or
terminate his life is another freedom which fall within the zone of
the right of privacy. I am conscious of the fact that the issue is
pending before this Court. But in various other jurisdictions, there
Explanation II.- In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to
persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be
construed accordingly.\
57 Skinner Vs. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942) - There are limits to the extent to which a legislatively represented
majority may conduct biological experiments at the expense of the dignity and personality and natural powers of a
minority – even those who have been guilty of what the majority defines as crimes - Jackson, J.
38
is a huge debate on those issues though it is still a grey area.58 A
woman’s freedom of choice whether to bear a child or abort her
pregnancy are areas which fall in the realm of privacy.
Similarly, the freedom to choose either to work or not and the
freedom to choose the nature of the work are areas of private
decision making process. The right to travel freely within the
country or go abroad is an area falling within the right of privacy.
The text of our Constitution recognised the freedom to travel
throughout the country under Article 19(1)(d). This Court has
already recognised that such a right takes within its sweep the right
to travel abroad.59 A person’s freedom to choose the place of his
residence once again is a part of his right of privacy60 recognised by
the Constitution of India under Article 19(1)(e) though the predominant
purpose of enumerating the above mentioned two
freedoms in Article 19(1) is to disable both the federal and State
Governments from creating barriers which are incompatible with
the federal nature of our country and its Constitution. The choice
58 For the legal debate in this area in US, See Chapter 15.11 of the American Constitutional Law by Laurence H.
Tribe – 2nd Edition.
59 Maneka Gandhi Vs. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248
60 Williams Vs. Fears, 179 U.S. 270 (1900) – Undoubtedly the right of locomotion, the right to remove from one
place to another according to inclination, is an attribute of personal liberty,…….
39
of appearance and apparel are also aspects of the right of privacy.
The freedom of certain groups of SUBJECTS to determine their
appearance and apparel (such as keeping long hair and wearing a
turban) are protected not as a part of the right of privacy but as a
part of their religious belief. Such a freedom need not necessarily
be based on religious beliefs falling under Article 25. Informational
traces are also an area which is the subject matter of huge debate
in various jurisdictions falling within the realm of the right of
privacy, such data is as personal as that of the choice of
appearance and apparel. Telephone tappings and internet hacking
by State, of personal data is another area which falls within the
realm of privacy. The instant reference arises out of such an
attempt by the Union of India to collect bio-metric data regarding all
the residents of this country.
The above-mentioned are some of the areas where some
interest of privacy exists. The examples given above indicate to
some extent the nature and scope of the right of privacy.
40. I do not think that anybody in this country would like to have
the officers of the State intruding into their homes or private
property at will or soldiers quartered in their houses without their
40
consent. I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the
State as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom
they should be associated with either in their personal, social or
political life. Freedom of social and political association is
guaranteed to citizens under Article 19(1)(c). Personal association
is still a doubtful area.61 The decision making process regarding
the freedom of association, freedoms of travel and residence are
purely private and fall within the realm of the right of privacy. It is
one of the most intimate decisions.
All liberal democracies believe that the State should not have
unqualified authority to intrude into certain aspects of human life
and that the authority should be limited by parameters
constitutionally fixed. Fundamental rights are the only
constitutional firewall to prevent State’s interference with those core
freedoms constituting liberty of a human being. The right to
privacy is certainly one of the core freedoms which is to be
61 The High Court of AP held that Article 19(1)(c) would take within its sweep the matrimonial association in T.
Sareetha Vs. T. Venkata Subbaiah, AIR 1983 AP 356. However, this case was later overruled by this Court in
Saroj Rani Vs. Sudarshan Kumar Chadha, AIR 1984 SC 1562
41
defended. It is part of liberty within the meaning of that expression
in Article 21.
41. I am in complete agreement with the conclusions recorded by
my learned brothers in this regard.
42. It goes without saying that no legal right can be absolute.
Every right has limitations. This aspect of the matter is conceded
at the bar. Therefore, even a fundamental right to privacy has
limitations. The limitations are to be identified on case to case
basis depending upon the nature of the privacy interest claimed.
There are different standards of review to test infractions of
fundamental rights. While the concept of reasonableness overarches
Part III, it operates differently across Articles (even if only slightly
differently across some of them). Having emphatically interpreted
the Constitution’s liberty guarantee to contain a fundamental right
of privacy, it is necessary for me to outline the manner in which
such a right to privacy can be limited. I only do this to indicate the
direction of the debate as the nature of limitation is not at issue
here.
42
43. To begin with, the options canvassed for limiting the right to
privacy include an Article 14 type reasonableness enquiry62;
limitation as per the express provisions of Article 19; a just, fair and
reasonable basis (that is, substantive due process) for limitation per
Article 21; and finally, a just, fair and reasonable standard per
Article 21 plus the amorphous standard of ‘compelling state
interest’. The last of these four options is the highest standard of
scrutiny63 that a court can adopt. It is from this menu that a
standard of review for limiting the right of privacy needs to be
chosen.
44. At the very outset, if a privacy claim specifically flows only
from one of the expressly enumerated provisions under Article 19,
then the standard of review would be as expressly provided under
Article 19. However, the possibility of a privacy claim being entirely
traceable to rights other than Art. 21 is bleak. Without discounting
that possibility, it needs to be noted that Art. 21 is the bedrock of
62A challenge under Article 14 can be made if there is an unreasonable classification and/or if the impugned
measure is arbitrary. The classification is unreasonable if there is no intelligible differentia justifying the
classification and if the classification has no rational nexus with the objective sought to be achieved. Arbitrariness,
which was first explained at para 85 of E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1974 SC 555, is very simply the
lack of any reasoning.
63A tiered level of scrutiny was indicated in what came to be known as the most famous footnote in Constitutional
law that is Footnote Four in United States v. Carolene Products, 304 U.S. 144 (1938). Depending on the graveness
of the right at stake, the court adopts a correspondingly rigorous standard of scrutiny.
43
the privacy guarantee. If the spirit of liberty permeates every claim
of privacy, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine that any
standard of limitation, other than the one under Article 21 applies.
It is for this reason that I will restrict the available options to the
latter two from the above described four.
45. The just, fair and reasonable standard of review under Article
21 needs no elaboration. It has also most commonly been used in
cases dealing with a privacy claim hitherto.64 Gobind resorted to the
compelling state interest standard in addition to the Article 21
reasonableness enquiry. From the United States where the
terminology of ‘compelling state interest’ originated, a strict
standard of scrutiny comprises two things- a ‘compelling state
interest’ and a requirement of ‘narrow tailoring’ (narrow tailoring
means that the law must be narrowly framed to achieve the
objective). As a term, compelling state interest does not have
definite contours in the US. Hence, it is critical that this standard
be adopted with some clarity as to when and in what types of
privacy claims it is to be used. Only in privacy claims which deserve
64 District Registrar & Collector, Hyderabad v Canara Bank AIR 2005 SC 186; State of Maharashtra v Bharat Shanti
Lal Shah (2008) 13 SCC 5.
44
the strictest scrutiny is the standard of compelling State interest to
be used. As for others, the just, fair and reasonable standard under
Article 21 will apply. When the compelling State interest standard
is to be employed must depend upon the context of concrete cases.
However, this discussion sets the ground rules within which a
limitation for the right of privacy is to be found.
..….....................................J.
(J. CHELAMESWAR)
New Delhi
August 24, 2017.

1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) No.494 OF 2012
JUSTICE K S PUTTASWAMY (RETD.) AND ANR. …. PETITIONERS
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. …. RESPONDENTS
WITH
T.C. (CIVIL) No. 151 OF 2013
T.C. (CIVIL) No. 152 OF 2013
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 833 OF 2013
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 829 OF 2013
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 932 OF 2013
CONMT. PET. (CIVIL) No.144 OF 2014 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
T.P. (CIVIL) No. 313 OF 2014
T.P. (CIVIL) No. 312 OF 2014
S.L.P. (CRL) No.2524 OF 2014
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 37 OF 2015
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 220 OF 2015
CONMT. PET. (CIVIL) No.674 OF 2015 IN W.P.(C) NO.829/2013
T.P. (CIVIL) No. 921 OF 2015
2
CONMT. PET. (C) No.470 OF 2015 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
CONMT. PET. (C) No.444 OF 2016 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
CONMT. PET. (C) No.608 OF 2016 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
W.P.(CIVIL) NO.797/2016
CONMT. PET. (CIVIL) No.844 OF 2017 IN W.P.(C) NO.494/2012
AND
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 342 OF 2017
W.P. (CIVIL) No. 372 OF 2017
JUDGMENT
S. A. BOBDE, J.
The Origin of the Reference
1. This reference calls on us to answer questions that would go to
the very heart of the liberty and freedom protected by the Constitution
of India. It arises in the context of a constitutional challenge to the
Aadhaar project, which aims to build a database of personal identity and
biometric information covering every Indian – the world’s largest
endeavour of its kind. To the Petitioners’ argument therein that Aadhaar
would violate the right to privacy, the Union of India, through its
Attorney General, raised the objection that Indians could claim no
3
constitutional right of privacy in view of a unanimous decision of 8
Judges of this Court in M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra1
and a decision
by a majority of 4 Judges in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh2
.
2. The question, which was framed by a Bench of three of us and
travels to us from a Bench of five, was the following:
“12. We are of the opinion that the cases on hand
raise far-reaching questions of importance involving
interpretation of the Constitution. What is at stake is
the amplitude of the fundamental rights including
that precious and inalienable right under Article 21.
If the observations made in MP Sharma and Kharak
Singh are to be read literally and accepted as the law
of this country, the fundamental rights guaranteed
under the Constitution of India and more particularly
right to liberty under Article 21 would be denuded of
vigour and vitality. At the same time, we are also of
the opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial
discipline require that pronouncements made by
larger Benches of this Court cannot be ignored by
smaller Benches without appropriately explaining the
reasons for not following the pronouncements made
by such larger Benches. With due respect to all the
learned Judges who rendered subsequent judgments
– where right to privacy is asserted or referred to
their Lordships concern for the liberty of human
beings, we are of the humble opinion that there
appears to be certain amount of apparent unresolved
contradiction in the law declared by this Court.
13. Therefore, in our opinion to give quietus to the
kind of controversy raised in this batch of cases once
and for all, it is better that the ratio decidendi of MP
Sharma and Kharak Singh is scrutinized and the
1
MP Sharma v. Satish Chandra, 1954 SCR 1077
2
Kharak Singh v. State of UttarPradesh, AIR 1963 SC 1295
4
jurisprudential correctness of the subsequent
decisions of this Court where the right to privacy is
either asserted or referred be examined and
authoritatively decided by a Bench of appropriate
strength3
.”
3. We have had the benefit of submissions from Shri Soli Sorabjee,
Shri Gopal Subramanium, Shri Shyam Divan, Shri Arvind Datar,
Shri Anand Grover, Shri Sajan Poovayya, Ms. Meenakshi Arora,
Shri Kapil Sibal, Shri P.V. Surendranath and Ms. Aishwarya Bhati for the
Petitioners, and Shri K.K. Venugopal, learned Attorney General for the
Union of India, Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Additional Solicitor General
for the Union, Shri Aryama Sundaram for the State of Maharashtra,
Shri Rakesh Dwivedi for the State of Gujarat, Shri Arghya Sengupta for
the State of Haryana, Shri Jugal Kishore for the State of Chattisgarh and
Shri Gopal Sankaranarayanan for an intervenor supporting the
Respondents. We would like to record our appreciation for their able
assistance in a matter of such great import as the case before us.
3
Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, W.P. (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, Order dated
11 August 2015
5
The Effect of M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh
4. The question of whether Article 21 encompasses a fundamental
right to privacy did not fall for consideration before the 8 Judges in the
M.P. Sharma Court. Rather, the question was whether an improper
search and seizure operation undertaken against a company and its
directors would violate the constitutional bar against testimonial
compulsion contained in Article 20(3) of the Constitution. This Court
held that such a search did not violate Article 20(3). Its reasoning
proceeded on the footing that the absence of a fundamental right to
privacy analogous to the Fourth Amendment to the United States’
constitution in our own constitution suggested that the Constituent
Assembly chose not to subject laws providing for search and seizure to
constitutional limitations. Consequently, this Court had no defensible
ground on which to import such a right into Article 20(3), which was, at
any event, a totally different right.
5. M.P. Sharma is unconvincing not only because it arrived at its
conclusion without enquiry into whether a privacy right could exist in
our Constitution on an independent footing or not, but because it
6
wrongly took the United States Fourth Amendment – which in itself is no
more than a limited protection against unlawful surveillance – to be a
comprehensive constitutional guarantee of privacy in that jurisdiction.
6. Neither does the 4:2 majority in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar
Pradesh (supra) furnish a basis for the proposition that no constitutional
right to privacy exists. Ayyangar, J.’s opinion for the majority found that
Regulation 236 (b) of the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulations, which inter
alia enabled the police to make domiciliary visits at night was “plainly
violative of Article 21”4
. In reasoning towards this conclusion, the Court
impliedly acknowledged a constitutional right to privacy. In particular, it
began by finding that though India has no like guarantee to the Fourth
Amendment, “an unauthorised intrusion into a person’s home and the
disturbance caused to him thereby, is as it were the violation of a
common law right of a man – an ultimate essential of ordered liberty, if
not of the very concept of civilization”
5
. It proceeded to affirm that the
statement in Semayne’s case6
that “the house of everyone is to him as
4
Id., at p. 350
5
Id., at p. 349
6
(1604) 5 Coke 91
7
his castle and fortress as well as for his defence against injury and
violence as for his repose” articulated an “abiding principle which
transcends mere protection of property rights and expounds a concept
of “personal liberty.” Thus far, the Kharak Singh majority makes out the
case of the Attorney General. But, in its final conclusion, striking down
Regulation 236 (b) being violative of Article 21 could not have been
arrived at without allowing that a right of privacy was covered by that
guarantee.
7. The M.P. Sharma Court did not have the benefit of two
interpretative devices that have subsequently become indispensable
tools in this Court’s approach to adjudicating constitutional cases. The
first of these devices derives from R.C. Cooper v. Union of India7
and its
progeny – including Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India8
– which require
us to read Part III’s guarantees of rights together. Unlike AK Gopalan v.
State of Madras9
which held the field in M.P. Sharma’s time, rights
demand to be read as overlapping rather than in silos, so that Part III is
now conceived as a constellation of harmonious and mutually reinforcing
7
(1970) 1 SCC 248
8
(1978) 1 SCC 248
9
AIR 1950 SC 27
8
guarantees. Part III does not attempt to delineate rights specifically.
I take the right to privacy, an indispensable part of personal liberty, to
have this character. Such a view would have been wholly untenable in
the AK Gopalan era.
8. M.P. Sharma also predates the practice of the judicial
enumeration of rights implicit in a guarantee instantiated in the
constitutional text. As counsel for the Petitioners correctly submitted,
there is a whole host of rights that this court has derived from Article 21
to evidence that enumeration is a well-embedded interpretative practice
in constitutional law. Article 21’s guarantee to the right to ‘life’ is home
to such varied rights as the right to go abroad (Maneka Gandhi v. Union
of India), the right to livelihood (Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal
Corporation10) and the right to medical care (Paramanand Katara v.
Union of India11).
9. Therefore, nothing in M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh supports
the conclusion that there is no fundamental right to privacy in our
10 (1985) 3 SCC 545
11 (1989) 4 SCC 286
9
Constitution. These two decisions and their inconclusiveness on the
question before the Court today have been discussed in great detail in
the opinions of Chelameswar J., Nariman J., and Chandrachud J.,
I agree with their conclusion in this regard. To the extent that stray
observations taken out of their context may suggest otherwise, the shift
in our understanding of the nature and location of various fundamental
rights in Part III brought about by R.C. Cooper and Maneka Gandhi has
removed the foundations of M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh.
10. Petitioners submitted that decisions numbering atleast 30 –
beginning with Mathews, J.’s full-throated acknowledgement of the
existence and value of a legal concept of privacy in Gobind v. State of
M.P.12 – form an unbroken line of cases that affirms the existence of a
constitutional right to privacy. In view of the foregoing, this view should
be accepted as correct.
The Form of the Privacy Right
11. It was argued for the Union by Mr. K.K. Venugopal, learned
Attorney General that the right of privacy may at best be a common law
12 (1975) 2 SCC 148
10
right, but not a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. This
submission is difficult to accept. In order to properly appreciate the
argument, an exposition of the first principles concerning the nature and
evolution of rights is necessary.
12. According to Salmond, rights are interests protected by ‘rules of
right’, i.e., by moral or legal rules13. When interests are worth
protecting on moral grounds, irrespective of the existence of a legal
system or the operation of law, they are given the name of a natural
right. Accordingly, Roscoe Pound refers to natural law as a theory of
moral qualities inherent in human beings, and to natural rights as
deductions demonstrated by reason from human nature14. He defines
natural rights, and distinguishes them from legal rights (whether at
common law or under constitutions) in the following way:
“Natural rights mean simply interests which we think
ought to be secured demands which human beings
may make which we think ought to be satisfied. It is
perfectly true that neither law nor state creates
them. But it is fatal to all sound thinking to treat
them as legal conceptions. For legal rights, the
devices which law employs to secure such of these
13 PJ FITZGERALD, SALMOND ON JURISPRUDENCE 217 (Twelfth Edition, 1966)
14 ROSCOE POUND, THE SPIRIT OF THE COMMON LAW 88 (1921)
11
interests as it is expedient to recognize, are the work
of the law and in that sense the work of the state.”
15
Privacy, with which we are here concerned, eminently qualifies as an
inalienable natural right, intimately connected to two values whose
protection is a matter of universal moral agreement: the innate dignity
and autonomy of man.
13. Legal systems, which in India as in England, began as
monarchies, concentrated the power of the government in the person of
the king. English common law, whether it is expressed in the laws of the
monarch and her Parliament, or in the decisions of the Courts, is the
source of what the Attorney General correctly takes to be our own
common law. Semayne’s case16
, in which it was affirmed that a man’s
home is his castle and that even the law may only enter it with warrant,
clearly shows that elements of the natural right of privacy began to be
received into the common law as early as in 1604. Where a natural law
right could not have been enforced at law, the common law right is
15 Id., at p. 92
16 (1604) 5 Coke 91
12
evidently an instrument by which invasions into the valued interest in
question by one’s fellow man can be addressed. On the very same
rationale as Seymayne, Chapter 17 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860,
treats trespass against property as a criminal offence17
.
14. With the advent of democracy and of limited constitutional
government came the state, a new actor with an unprecedented capacity
to interfere with natural and common law rights alike. The state differs in
two material ways from the monarch, the previous site in which
governmental power (including the power to compel compliance through
penal laws) was vested. First, the state is an abstract and diffuse entity,
while the monarch was a tangible, single entity. Second, the advent of
the state came with a critical transformation in the status of the
governed from being subjects under the monarch to becoming citizens,
17 Several other pre-constitutional enactments which codify the common law also
acknowledge a right to privacy, both as between the individuals and the government, as
well as between individuals inter se. These include:
1. S. 126-9, The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (protecting certain classes of
communication as privileged)
2. S. 4, The Indian Easements Act, 1882 (defining ‘easements’ as the right to
choose how to use and enjoy a given piece of land)
3. S. 5(2), The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (specifying the permissible grounds for
the Government to order the interception of messages)
4. S. 5 and 6, The Bankers Books (Evidence) Act, 1891 (mandating a court order for
the production and inspection of bank records)
5. S. 25 and 26, The Indian Post Office Act, 1898 (specifying the permissible
grounds for the interception of postal articles)
13
and themselves becoming agents of political power qua the state.
Constitutions like our own are means by which individuals – the
Preambular ‘people of India’ – create ‘the state’, a new entity to serve
their interests and be accountable to them, and transfer a part of their
sovereignty to it. The cumulative effect of both these circumstances is
that individuals governed by constitutions have the new advantage of a
governing entity that draws its power from and is accountable to them,
but they face the new peril of a diffuse and formless entity against whom
existing remedies at common law are no longer efficacious.
15. Constitutions address the rise of the new political hegemon that
they create by providing for a means by which to guard against its
capacity for invading the liberties available and guaranteed to all civilized
peoples. Under our constitutional scheme, these means – declared to be
fundamental rights – reside in Part III, and are made effective by the
power of this Court and the High Courts under Articles 32 and 226
respectively. This narrative of the progressive expansion of the types of
rights available to individuals seeking to defend their liberties from
invasion – from natural rights to common law rights and finally to
14
fundamental rights – is consistent with the account of the development
of rights that important strands in constitutional theory present18
.
16. This court has already recognized the capacity of constitutions to
be the means by which to declare recognized natural rights as applicable
qua the state, and of constitutional courts to enforce these declarations.
In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala19
, Mathew, J. borrows from
Roscoe Pound to explain this idea in the following terms:
“While dealing with natural rights, Roscoe
Pound states on p. 500 of Vol. I of his Jurisprudence:
“Perhaps nothing contributed so much to create and
foster hostility to courts and law and constitutions as
this conception of the courts as guardians of
individual natural rights against the State and
against society; this conceiving of the law as a final
and absolute body of doctrine declaring these
individual natural rights; this theory of constitutions
as declaratory of common law principles, which are
also natural-law principles, anterior to the State and
of superior validity to enactments by the authority of
the state; this theory of Constitutions as having
for their purpose to guarantee and maintain the
natural rights of individuals against the
Government and all its agencies.In effect, it set
up the received traditional social, political, and
economic ideals of the legal profession as a superconstitution,
beyond the reach of any agency but
judicial decision.” (Emphasis supplied)
18 MARTIN LOUGHLIN, THE FOUNDATIONS OF PUBLIC LAW 344-46 (2010)
19 (1973) 4 SCC 225, 1461 at p. 783
15
This Court also recognizes the true nature of the relation between the
citizen and the state as well as the true character and utility of Part III.
Accordingly, in People’s Union of Civil Liberties v. Union of India20
, it has
recently been affirmed that the objective of Part III is to place citizens at
centre stage and make the state accountable to them. In Society for
Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India21
, it was held that
“[f]undamental rights have two aspects, firstly, they act as fetter on
plenary legislative powers, and secondly, they provide conditions for
fuller development of our people including their individual dignity.”
17. Once we have arrived at this understanding of the nature of
fundamental rights, we can dismantle a core assumption of the Union’s
argument: that a right must either be a common law right or a
fundamental right. The only material distinctions between the two
classes of right – of which the nature and content may be the same – lie
in the incidence of the duty to respect the right and in the forum in which
a failure to do so can be redressed. Common law rights are horizontal in
20 (2005) 2 SCC 436
21 (2012) 6 SCC 1 at 27
16
their operation when they are violated by one’s fellow man, he can be
named and proceeded against in an ordinary court of law. Constitutional
and fundamental rights, on the other hand, provide remedy against the
violation of a valued interest by the ‘state’, as an abstract entity,
whether through legislation or otherwise, as well as by identifiable public
officials, being individuals clothed with the powers of the state. It is
perfectly possible for an interest to simultaneously be recognized as a
common law right and a fundamental right. Where the interference with
a recognized interest is by the state or any other like entity recognized
by Article 12, a claim for the violation of a fundamental right would lie.
Where the author of an identical interference is a non-state actor, an
action at common law would lie in an ordinary court.
18. Privacy has the nature of being both a common law right as well
as a fundamental right. Its content, in both forms, is identical. All that
differs is the incidence of burden and the forum for enforcement for each
form.
17
The Content of the Right of Privacy
19. It might be broadly necessary to determine the nature and
content of privacy in order to consider the extent of its constitutional
protection. As in the case of ‘life’ under Article 21, a precise definition of
the term ‘privacy’ may not be possible. This difficulty need not detain us.
Definitional and boundary-setting challenges are not unique to the rights
guaranteed in Article 21. This feature is integral to many core rights,
such as the right to equality. Evidently, the expansive character of any
right central to constitutional democracies like ours has nowhere stood in
the way of recognizing a right and treating it as fundamental where there
are strong constitutional grounds on which to do so.
20. The existence of zones of privacy is felt instinctively by all
civilized people, without exception. The best evidence for this proposition
lies in the panoply of activities through which we all express claims to
privacy in our daily lives. We lock our doors, clothe our bodies and set
passwords to our computers and phones to signal that we intend for our
places, persons and virtual lives to be private. An early case in the
18
Supreme Court of Georgia in the United States describes the natural and
instinctive recognition of the need for privacy in the following terms:
“The right of privacy has its foundation in the
instincts of nature. It is recognized intuitively,
consciousness being the witness that can be called to
establish its existence. Any person whose intellect is
in a normal condition recognizes at once that as to
each individual member of society there are matters
private and there are matters public so far as the
individual is concerned. Each individual as
instinctively resents any encroachment by the public
upon his rights which are of a private nature as he
does the withdrawal of those of his rights which are
of a public nature22”.
The same instinctive resentment is evident in the present day as well.
For instance, the non-consensual revelation of personal information such
as the state of one’s health, finances, place of residence, location, daily
routines and so on efface one’s sense of personal and financial security.
In District Registrar and Collector v. Canara Bank23
, this Court observed
what the jarring reality of a lack of privacy may entail:
“ ...If the right is to be held to be not attached to
the person, then “we would not shield our account
balances, income figures and personal telephone and
address books from the public eye, but might instead
go about with the information written on our
‘foreheads or our bumper stickers’. ”
22 Pavesich v. New England Life Insurance co. et al., 50 S.E. 68 (Supreme Court of Georgia)
23 (2005) 1 SCC 496 at 48
19
21. ‘Privacy’ is “[t]he condition or state of being free from public
attention to intrusion into or interference with one’s acts or decisions”
24
.
The right to be in this condition has been described as ‘the right to be let
alone’25. What seems to be essential to privacy is the power to seclude
oneself and keep others from intruding it in any way. These intrusions
may be physical or visual, and may take any of several forms including
peeping over one’s shoulder to eavesdropping directly or through
instruments, devices or technological aids.
22. Every individual is entitled to perform his actions in private. In
other words, she is entitled to be in a state of repose and to work
without being disturbed, or otherwise observed or spied upon. The
entitlement to such a condition is not confined only to intimate spaces
such as the bedroom or the washroom but goes with a person wherever
he is, even in a public place. Privacy has a deep affinity with seclusion
(of our physical persons and things) as well as such ideas as repose,
solitude, confidentiality and secrecy (in our communications), and
24 BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (Bryan Garner, ed.) 3783 (2004)
25 Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, The Right To Privacy, 4 HARV. L. REV. 193
(1890)
20
intimacy. But this is not to suggest that solitude is always essential to
privacy. It is in this sense of an individual’s liberty to do things privately
that a group of individuals, however large, is entitled to seclude itself
from others and be private. In fact, a conglomeration of individuals in a
space to which the rights of admission are reserved – as in a hotel or a
cinema hall –must be regarded as private. Nor is the right to privacy lost
when a person moves about in public. The law requires a specific
authorization for search of a person even where there is suspicion26
.
Privacy must also mean the effective guarantee of a zone of internal
freedom in which to think. The disconcerting effect of having another
peer over one’s shoulder while reading or writing explains why
individuals would choose to retain their privacy even in public. It is
important to be able to keep one’s work without publishing it in a
condition which may be described as private. The vigour and vitality of
the various expressive freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution depends
on the existence of a corresponding guarantee of cognitive freedom.
26 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s. 42
21
23. Even in the ancient and religious texts of India, a well-developed
sense of privacy is evident. A woman ought not to be seen by a male
stranger seems to be a well-established rule in the Ramayana. Grihya
Sutras prescribe the manner in which one ought to build one’s house in
order to protect the privacy of its inmates and preserve its sanctity
during the performance of religious rites, or when studying the Vedas or
taking meals. The Arthashastra prohibits entry into another’s house,
without the owner’s consent27. There is still a denomination known as
the Ramanuj Sampradaya in southern India, members of which continue
to observe the practice of not eating and drinking in the presence of
anyone else. Similarly in Islam, peeping into others’ houses is strictly
prohibited28. Just as the United States Fourth Amendment guarantees
privacy in one’s papers and personal effects, the Hadith makes it
reprehensible to read correspondence between others. In Christianity,
we find the aspiration to live without interfering in the affairs of others in
the text of the Bible29. Confession of one’s sins is a private act30
.
27 KAUTILYA’S ARTHASHASTRA189-90 (R. Shamasastri, trans., 1915)
28 AA MAUDUDI, HUMAN RIGHTS IN ISLAM 27 (1982)
29 Thessalonians 4:11 THE BIBLE
22
Religious and social customs affirming privacy also find
acknowledgement in our laws, for example, in the Civil Procedure Code’s
exemption of a pardanashin lady’s appearance in Court31
.
24. Privacy, that is to say, the condition arrived at after excluding
other persons, is a basic pre-requisite for exercising the liberty and the
freedom to perform that activity. The inability to create a condition of
selective seclusion virtually denies an individual the freedom to exercise
that particular liberty or freedom necessary to do that activity.
25. It is not possible to truncate or isolate the basic freedom to do
an activity in seclusion from the freedom to do the activity itself. The
right to claim a basic condition like privacy in which guaranteed
fundamental rights can be exercised must itself be regarded as a
fundamental right. Privacy, thus, constitutes the basic, irreducible
condition necessary for the exercise of ‘personal liberty’ and freedoms
guaranteed by the Constitution. It is the inarticulate major premise in
Part III of the Constitution.
30 James 5:16 THE BIBLE
31 Code of Civil Procedure, 1989, S. 132
23
Privacy’s Connection to Dignity and Liberty
26. Undoubtedly, privacy exists, as the foregoing demonstrates, as a
verifiable fact in all civilized societies. But privacy does not stop at being
merely a descriptive claim. It also embodies a normative one. The
normative case for privacy is intuitively simple. Nature has clothed man,
amongst other things, with dignity and liberty so that he may be free to
do what he will consistent with the freedom of another and to develop his
faculties to the fullest measure necessary to live in happiness and peace.
The Constitution, through its Part III, enumerates many of these
freedoms and their corresponding rights as fundamental rights. Privacy is
an essential condition for the exercise of most of these freedoms.
Ex facie, every right which is integral to the constitutional rights to
dignity, life, personal liberty and freedom, as indeed the right to privacy
is, must itself be regarded as a fundamental right.
27. Though he did not use the name of ‘privacy’, it is clear that it is
what J.S. Mill took to be indispensable to the existence of the general
reservoir of liberty that democracies are expected to reserve to their
24
citizens. In the introduction to his seminal On Liberty (1859), he
characterized freedom in the following way:
“This, then, is the appropriate region of human
liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain
of consciousness; demanding liberty of
conscience, in the most comprehensive sense;
liberty of thought and feeling; absolute
freedom of opinion and sentiment on all
subjects, practical or speculative, scientific,
moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing
and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a
different principle, since it belongs to that part of the
conduct of an individual which concerns other
people; but, being almost of as much importance as
the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part
on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from
it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of
tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our
life to suit our own character; of doing as we like,
subject to such consequences as may follow: without
impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as
what we do does not harm them, even though they
should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong.
Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows
the liberty, within the same limits, of combination
among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose
not involving harm to others: the persons combining
being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or
deceived.
No society in which these liberties are not, on
the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be
its form of government; and none is completely
free in which they do not exist absolute and
unqualified. The only freedom which deserves
the name, is that of pursuing our own good in
our own way, so long as we do not attempt to
deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts
to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his
own health, whether bodily, or mental and
spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering
25
each other to live as seems good to themselves,
than by compelling each to live as seems good to the
rest.
Though this doctrine is anything but new, and, to
some persons, may have the air of a truism, there is
no doctrine which stands more directly opposed to
the general tendency of existing opinion and
practice. Society has expended fully as much effort
in the attempt (according to its lights) to compel
people to conform to its notions of personal, as of
social excellence.”32 (Emphasis supplied)
28. The first and natural home for a right of privacy is in Article 21
at the very heart of ‘personal liberty’ and life itself. Liberty and privacy
are integrally connected in a way that privacy is often the basic condition
necessary for exercise of the right of personal liberty. There are
innumerable activities which are virtually incapable of being performed at
all and in many cases with dignity unless an individual is left alone or is
otherwise empowered to ensure his or her privacy. Birth and death are
events when privacy is required for ensuring dignity amongst all civilized
people. Privacy is thus one of those rights “instrumentally required if one
is to enjoy”33 rights specified and enumerated in the constitutional text.
32 JOHN STUART MILL, ON LIBERTY AND OTHER ESSAYS 15-16 (Stefan Collini ed., 1989) (1859)
33 Laurence H. Tribe and Michael C. Dorf, Levels Of Generality In The Definition Of Rights,
57 U. CHI. L. REV. 1057 (1990) at 1068
26
29. This Court has endorsed the view that ‘life’ must mean
“something more than mere animal existence”34 on a number of
occasions, beginning with the Constitution Bench in Sunil Batra (I) v.
Delhi Administration35. Sunil Batra connected this view of Article 21 to
the constitutional value of dignity. In numerous cases, including Francis
Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi36
, this Court has
viewed liberty as closely linked to dignity. Their relationship to the effect
of taking into the protection of ‘life’ the protection of “faculties of
thinking and feeling”, and of temporary and permanent impairments to
those faculties. In Francis Coralie Mullin, Bhagwati, J. opined as
follows37:
“Now obviously, the right to life enshrined in Article
21 cannot be restricted to mere animal existence. It
means something much more than just physical
survival. In Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh,
Subba Rao J. quoted with approval the following
passage from the judgment of Field J. in Munn v.
Illinois to emphasize the quality of life covered by
Article 21:
“By the term “life” as here used something more is
meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition
34 Munn v. Illinois, (1877) 94 US 113 (Per Field, J.) as cited In Kharak Singh at p. 347-8
35 (1978) 4 SCC 494
36 (1981) 1 SCC 608
37 Francis Coralie Mullin at 7
27
against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and
faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision
equally prohibits the mutilation of the body or
amputation of an arm or leg or the putting out of an
eye or the destruction of any other organ of the body
through which the soul communicates with the outer
world.”
and this passage was again accepted as laying down
the correct law by the Constitution Bench of this
Court in the first Sunil Batra case (supra). Every
limb or faculty through which life is enjoyed is
thus protected by Article 21 and a fortiori, this
would include the faculties of thinking and
feeling. Now deprivation which is inhibited by Article
21 may be total or partial, neither any limb or faculty
can be totally destroyed nor can it be partially
damaged. Moreover it is every kind of deprivation
that is hit by Article 21, whether such deprivation be
permanent or temporary and, furthermore,
deprivation is not an act which is complete once and
for all: it is a continuing act and so long as it lasts, it
must be in accordance with procedure established by
law. It is therefore clear that any act which
damages or injures or interferes with the use
of, any limb or faculty of a person, either
permanently or even temporarily, would be
within the inhibition of Article 21.”
(Emphasis supplied)
Privacy is therefore necessary in both its mental and physical aspects as
an enabler of guaranteed freedoms.
30. It is difficult to see how dignity – whose constitutional
significance is acknowledged both by the Preamble and by this Court in
its exposition of Article 21, among other rights – can be assured to the
28
individual without privacy. Both dignity and privacy are intimately
intertwined and are natural conditions for the birth and death of
individuals, and for many significant events in life between these events.
Necessarily, then, the right of privacy is an integral part of both ‘life’ and
‘personal liberty’ under Article 21, and is intended to enable the rights
bearer to develop her potential to the fullest extent made possible only
in consonance with the constitutional values expressed in the Preamble
as well as across Part III.
Privacy as a Travelling Right
31. I have already shown that the right of privacy is as inalienable as
the right to perform any constitutionally permissible act. Privacy in all its
aspects constitutes the springboard for the exercise of the freedoms
guaranteed by Article 19(1). Freedom of speech and expression is always
dependent on the capacity to think, read and write in private and is often
exercised in a state of privacy, to the exclusion of those not intended to
be spoken to or communicated with. A peaceful assembly requires the
exclusion of elements who may not be peaceful or who may have a
different agenda. The freedom to associate must necessarily be the
29
freedom to associate with those of one’s choice and those with common
objectives. The requirement of privacy in matters concerning residence
and settlement is too well-known to require elaboration. Finally, it is not
possible to conceive of an individual being able to practice a profession
or carry on trade, business or occupation without the right to privacy in
practical terms and without the right and power to keep others away
from his work.
32. Ex facie, privacy is essential to the exercise of freedom of
conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion vide
Article 25. The further right of every religious denomination to maintain
institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own
affairs and to own and administer property acquired for such purposes
vide Article 26 also requires privacy, in the sense of non-interference
from the state. Article 28(3) expressly recognizes the right of a student
attending an educational institution recognized by the state, to be left
alone. Such a student cannot be compelled to take part in any religious
instruction imparted in any such institution unless his guardian has
consented to it.
30
33. The right of privacy is also integral to the cultural and
educational rights whereby a group having a distinct language, script or
culture shall have the right to conserve the same. It has also always
been an integral part of the right to own property and has been treated
as such in civil law as well as in criminal law vide all the offences and
torts of trespass known to law.
34. Therefore, privacy is the necessary condition precedent to the
enjoyment of any of the guarantees in Part III. As a result, when it is
claimed by rights bearers before constitutional courts, a right to privacy
may be situated not only in Article 21, but also simultaneously in any of
the other guarantees in Part III. In the current state of things, Articles
19(1), 20(3), 25, 28 and 29 are all rights helped up and made
meaningful by the exercise of privacy. This is not an exhaustive list.
Future developments in technology and social ordering may well reveal
that there are yet more constitutional sites in which a privacy right
inheres that are not at present evident to us.
31
Judicial Enumeration of the Fundamental Right to Privacy
35. There is nothing unusual in the judicial enumeration of one right
on the basis of another under the Constitution. In the case of Article 21’s
guarantee of ‘personal liberty’, this practice is only natural if Salmond’s
formulation of liberty as “incipient rights”38 is correct. By the process of
enumeration, constitutional courts merely give a name and specify the
core of guarantees already present in the residue of constitutional
liberty. Over time, the Supreme Court has been able to imply by its
interpretative process, that several fundamental rights including the right
to privacy emerge out of expressly stated Fundamental Rights. In Unni
Krishnan, J.P. v. State of A.P.
39, a Constitution Bench of this Court held
that “several unenumerated rights fall within Article 21 since personal
liberty is of widest amplitude”
40 on the way to affirming the existence of
a right to education. It went on to supply the following indicative list of
such rights, which included the right to privacy:
“30. The following rights are held to be covered
under Article 21:
38 SALMOND, at p. 228
39 (1993) SCC 1 645
40 Id. at 29
32
1. The right to go abroad. Satwant Singh v. D.
Ramarathnam A.P. O., New Delhi (1967) 3 SCR 525.
2. The right to privacy. Gobind v. State of M.P..,
(1975)2 SCC 148. In this case reliance was placed
on the American decision in Griswold v. Connecticut,
381 US 479 at 510.
3. The right against solitary confinement. Sunil Batra
v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494 at 545.
4. The right against bar fetters. Charles Sobhraj v.
Supdt. (Central Jail0, (1978)4 SCR 104
5. The right to legal aid. MH Hoskot v. State of
Maharashtra, (1978) 3 SCC 544.
6. The right to speedy trial. Hussainara Khatoon v.
Home Secy, State of Bihar, (1980)1 SCC81
7. The right against hand cuffing. Prem Shankar v.
Delhi Administration (1980) 3 SCC 526
8. The right against delayed execution. TV
Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1983) 2 SCC
68.
9. The right against custodial violence. Sheela Barse v.
State of Maharashtra, (1983) 2 SCC 96.
10. The Right against public hanging. A.G. of India v.
Lachmadevi, (1989) Supp. 1 SCC264
11. Doctor’s Assistance. Paramananda Katra v.
Union of India, (1989) 4 SCC 286.
12. Shelter. Santistar Builder v. N.KI. Totame,
(1990) 1 SCC 520”
In the case of privacy, the case for judicial enumeration is especially
strong. It is no doubt a fair implication from Article 21, but also more.
Privacy is be a right or condition, “logically presupposed”41 by rights
expressly recorded in the constitutional text, if they are to make sense.
41 Laurence H. Tribe And Michael C. Dorf, Levels Of Generality In The Definition Of
Rights, 57 U. CHI. L. REV. 1057 (1990) at p. 1068
33
As a result, privacy is more than merely a derivative constitutional right.
It is the necessary and unavoidable logical entailment of rights
guaranteed in the text of the constitution.
36. Not recognizing character of privacy as a fundamental right is
likely to erode the very sub-stratum of the personal liberty guaranteed
by the constitution. The decided cases clearly demonstrate that
particular fundamental rights could not have been exercised without the
recognition of the right of privacy as a fundamental right. Any
derecognition or diminution in the importance of the right of privacy will
weaken the fundamental rights which have been expressly conferred.
37. Before proceeding to the question of how constitutional courts
are to review whether a violation of privacy is unconstitutional, three
arguments from the Union and the states deserve to be dealt with
expressly.
38. The Learned Attorney General relied on cases holding that there
is no fundamental right to trade in liquor to submit by analogy that there
can be no absolute right to privacy. Apprehensions that the recognition
of privacy would create complications for the state in its exercise of
34
powers is not well-founded. The declaration of a right cannot be avoided
where there is good constitutional ground for doing so. It is only after
acknowledging that the right of privacy is a fundamental right, that we
can consider how it affects the plenary powers of the state. In any event,
the state can always legislate a reasonable restriction to protect and
effectuate a compelling state interest, like it may while restricting any
other fundamental right. There is no warrant for the assumption or for
the conclusion that the fundamental right to privacy is an absolute right
which cannot be reasonably restricted given a sufficiently compelling
state interest.
39. Learned Additional Solicitor General, Shri Tushar Mehta listed
innumerable statutes which protect the right of privacy wherever
necessary and urged that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to
recognize privacy as a fundamental right. This argument cannot be
accepted any more in the context of a fundamental right to privacy than
in the context of any other fundamental right. Several legislations
protect and advance fundamental rights, but their existence does not
make the existence of a corresponding fundamental right redundant.
35
This is obviously so because legislations are alterable and even
repealable unlike fundamental rights, which, by design, endure.
40. Shri Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the State of Gujarat, while
referring to several judgments of the Supreme Court of the United
States, submitted that only those privacy claims which involve a
‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ be recognized as protected by the
fundamental right. It is not necessary for the purpose of this case to
deal with the particular instances of privacy claims which are to be
recognized as implicating a fundamental right. Indeed, it would be
premature to do. The scope and ambit of a constitutional protection of
privacy can only be revealed to us on a case-by-case basis.
The Test for Privacy
41. One way of determining what a core constitutional idea is, could
be by considering its opposite, which shows what it is not. Accordingly,
we understand justice as the absence of injustice, and freedom as the
absence of restraint. So too privacy may be understood as the antonym
of publicity. In law, the distinction between what is considered a private
trust as opposed to a public trust illuminates what I take to be core and
36
irreducible attributes of privacy. In Deoki Nandan v. Murlidhar42
, four
judges of this Court articulated the distinction in the following terms:
“The distinction between a private trust and a
public trust is that whereas in the former the
beneficiaries are specific individuals, in the latter
they are the general public or a class thereof. While
in the former the beneficiaries are persons who are
ascertained or capable of being ascertained, in the
latter they constitute a body which is incapable of
ascertainment.”
This same feature, namely the right of a member of public as such to
enter upon or use such property, distinguishes private property from
public property and private ways from public roads.
42. Privacy is always connected, whether directly or through its
effect on the actions which are sought to be secured from interference,
to the act of associating with others. In this sense, privacy is usually best
understood as a relational right, even as its content frequently concerns
the exclusion of others from one’s society.
43. The trusts illustration also offers us a workable test for
determining when a constitutionally cognizable privacy claim has been
made, and the basis for acknowledging that the existence of such a claim
42 (1956) SCR 756
37
is context-dependent. To exercise one’s right to privacy is to choose and
specify on two levels. It is to choose which of the various activities that
are taken in by the general residue of liberty available to her she would
like to perform, and to specify whom to include in one’s circle when
performing them. It is also autonomy in the negative, and takes in the
choice and specification of which activities not to perform and which
persons to exclude from one’s circle. Exercising privacy is the signaling
of one’s intent to these specified others – whether they are one’s coparticipants
or simply one’s audience – as well as to society at large, to
claim and exercise the right. To check for the existence of an actionable
claim to privacy, all that needs to be considered is if such an intent to
choose and specify exists, whether directly in its manifestation in the
rights bearer’s actions, or otherwise.
44. Such a formulation would exclude three recurring red herrings in
the Respondents’ arguments before us. Firstly, it would not admit of
arguments that privacy is limited to property or places. So, for example,
taking one or more persons aside to converse at a whisper even in a
public place would clearly signal a claim to privacy, just as broadcasting
38
one’s words by a loudspeaker would signal the opposite intent. Secondly,
this formulation would not reduce privacy to solitude. Reserving the
rights to admission at a large gathering place, such as a cinema hall or
club, would signal a claim to privacy. Finally, neither would such a
formulation require us to hold that private information must be
information that is inaccessible to all others.
Standards of Review of Privacy Violations
45. There is no doubt that privacy is integral to the several
fundamental rights recognized by Part III of the Constitution and must
be regarded as a fundamental right itself. The relationship between the
right of privacy and the particular fundamental right (or rights) involved
would depend on the action interdicted by a particular law. At a
minimum, since privacy is always integrated with personal liberty, the
constitutionality of the law which is alleged to have invaded into a rights
bearer’s privacy must be tested by the same standards by which a law
which invades personal liberty under Article 21 is liable to be tested.
Under Article 21, the standard test at present is the rationality review
expressed in Maneka Gandhi’s case. This requires that any procedure by
39
which the state interferes with an Article 21 right to be “fair, just and
reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary”
43
.
46. Once it is established that privacy imbues every constitutional
freedom with its efficacy and that it can be located in each of them, it
must follow that interference with it by the state must be tested against
whichever one or more Part III guarantees whose enjoyment is curtailed.
As a result, privacy violations will usually have to answer to tests in
addition to the one applicable to Article 21. Such a view would be wholly
consistent with R.C. Cooper v. Union of India.
Conclusion
47. In view of the foregoing, I answer the reference before us in the
following terms:
a. The ineluctable conclusion must be that an inalienable
constitutional right to privacy inheres in Part III of the
Constitution. M.P. Sharma and the majority opinion in Kharak
Singh must stand overruled to the extent that they indicate to
the contrary.
43 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248 at para 48
40
b. The right to privacy is inextricably bound up with all
exercises of human liberty – both as it is specifically enumerated
across Part III, and as it is guaranteed in the residue under
Article 21. It is distributed across the various articles in Part III
and, mutatis mutandis, takes the form of whichever of their
enjoyment its violation curtails.
c. Any interference with privacy by an entity covered by
Article 12’s description of the ‘state’ must satisfy the tests
applicable to whichever one or more of the Part III freedoms the
interference affects.
................................. J.
[S. A. BOBDE]
New Delhi;
August 24, 2017
1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL/APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
JUSTICE K.S. PUTTASWAMY
(RETD.) AND ANR. …PETITIONERS
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. …RESPONDENTS
WITH
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.151 OF 2013
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.152 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.833 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.829 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.932 OF 2013
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.144 OF 2014
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 313 OF 2014
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 312 OF 2014
2
SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.2524 OF 2014
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.37 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.220 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.674 OF 2015
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.829 OF 2013
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 921 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.470 OF 2015
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.444 OF 2016
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.608 OF 2016
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.797 OF 2016
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.844 OF 2017
IN
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.342 OF 2017
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.372 OF 2017
3
J U D G M E N T
R.F. Nariman, J.
Prologue
1. The importance of the present matter is such that
whichever way it is decided, it will have huge repercussions for
the democratic republic that we call “Bharat” i.e. India. A Bench
of 9-Judges has been constituted to look into questions relating
to basic human rights. A 3-Judge Bench of this Court was
dealing with a scheme propounded by the Government of India
popularly known as the Aadhar card scheme. Under the said
scheme, the Government of India collects and compiles both
demographic and biometric data of the residents of this country
to be used for various purposes. One of the grounds of attack
on the said scheme is that the very collection of such data is
violative of the “Right to Privacy”. After hearing the learned
Attorney General, Shri Gopal Subramanium and Shri Shyam
Divan, a 3-Judge Bench opined as follows:
“12. We are of the opinion that the cases on hand
raise far reaching questions of importance involving
interpretation of the Constitution. What is at stake is
the amplitude of the fundamental rights including
4
that precious and inalienable right under Article 21.
If the observations made in M.P. Sharma (supra)
and Kharak Singh (supra) are to be read literally
and accepted as the law of this country, the
fundamental rights guaranteed under the
Constitution of India and more particularly right to
liberty under Article 21 would be denuded of vigour
and vitality. At the same time, we are also of the
opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial
discipline require that pronouncement made by
larger Benches of this Court cannot be ignored by
the smaller Benches without appropriately
explaining the reasons for not following the
pronouncements made by such larger Benches.
With due respect to all the learned Judges who
rendered the subsequent judgments—where right to
privacy is asserted or referred to their Lordships
concern for the liberty of human beings, we are of
the humble opinion that there appears to be certain
amount of apparent unresolved contradiction in the
law declared by this Court.
13. Therefore, in our opinion to give a quietus to the
kind of controversy raised in this batch of cases
once for all, it is better that the ratio decidendi of
M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh (supra) is
scrutinized and the jurisprudential correctness of the
subsequent decisions of this Court where the right
to privacy is either asserted or referred be examined
and authoritatively decided by a Bench of
appropriate strength.”
2. The matter was heard by a Bench of 5 learned Judges on
July 18, 2017, and was thereafter referred to 9 learned Judges
in view of the fact that the judgment in M.P. Sharma and
others v. Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi, and
5
others, 1954 SCR 1077, was by a Bench of 8 learned Judges
of this Court.
3. Learned senior counsel for the petitioners, Shri Gopal
Subramanium, Shri Shyam Divan, Shri Arvind Datar, Shri Sajan
Poovayya, Shri Anand Grover and Miss Meenakshi Arora, have
argued that the judgments contained in M.P. Sharma (supra)
and Kharak Singh v. State of U.P., (1964) 1 SCR 332, which
was by a Bench of 6 learned Judges, should be overruled as
they do not reflect the correct position in law. In any case, both
judgments have been overtaken by R.C. Cooper v. Union of
India, (1970) 1 SCC 248, and Maneka Gandhi v. Union of
India, (1978) 1 SCC 248, and therefore require a revisit at our
end. According to them, the right to privacy is very much a
fundamental right which is co-terminus with the liberty and
dignity of the individual. According to them, this right is found in
Articles 14, 19, 20, 21 and 25 when read with the Preamble of
the Constitution. Further, it was also argued that several
international covenants have stated that the right to privacy is
fundamental to the development of the human personality and
that these international covenants need to be read into the
6
fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. Also, according
to them, the right to privacy should be evolved on a case to
case basis, and being a fundamental human right should only
yield to State action if such State action is compelling,
necessary and in public interest. A large number of judgments
were cited by all of them. They also invited this Court to
pronounce upon the fact that the right to privacy is an
inalienable natural right which is not conferred by the
Constitution but only recognized as such.
4. Shri Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel on behalf of the
States of Karnataka, West Bengal, Punjab and Puducherry
broadly supported the petitioners. According to him, the 8-
Judge Bench and the 6-Judge Bench decisions have ceased to
be relevant in the context of the vastly changed circumstances
of today. Further, according to him, State action that violates
the fundamental right to privacy must contain at least four
elements, namely:
• “The action must be sanctioned by law;
• The proposed action must be necessary in a
democratic society for a legitimate aim;
7
• The extent of such interference must be
proportionate to the need for such
interference;
• There must be procedural guarantees against
abuse of such interference.”
5. Shri P.V. Surendra Nath, appearing on behalf of the State
of Kerala, also supported the petitioners and stated that the
constitutional right to privacy very much exists in Part III of the
Constitution.
6. Appearing on behalf of the Union of India, Shri K.K.
Venugopal, learned Attorney General for India, has argued that
the conclusions arrived at in the 8-Judge Bench and the 6-
Judge Bench decisions should not be disturbed as they are
supported by the fact that the founding fathers expressly
rejected the right to privacy being made part of the fundamental
rights chapter of the Constitution. He referred in copious detail
to the Constituent Assembly debates for this purpose. Further,
according to him, privacy is a common law right and all aspects
of privacy do not elevate themselves into being a fundamental
right. If at all, the right to privacy can only be one amongst
8
several varied rights falling under the umbrella of the right to
personal liberty. According to him, the right to life stands above
the right to personal liberty, and any claim to privacy which
would destroy or erode this basic foundational right can never
be elevated to the status of a fundamental right. He also
argued that the right to privacy cannot be claimed when most of
the aspects which are sought to be protected by such right are
already in the public domain and the information in question
has already been parted with by citizens.
7. Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Additional Solicitor General of
India, appearing for UIDAI and the State of Madhya Pradesh,
generally supported and adopted the arguments of the learned
Attorney General. According to him, privacy is an inherently
vague and subjective concept and cannot, therefore, be
accorded the status of a fundamental right. Further, codified
statutory law in India already confers protection to the
individual’s right to privacy. According to him, no further
expansion of the rights contained in Part III of our Constitution
is at all warranted. Also, the position under English Law is that
there is no common law right to privacy. He cited before us
9
examples of other countries in the world where privacy is
protected by legislation and not by or under the Constitution.
8. Shri Aryama Sundaram, appearing for the State of
Maharashtra, also supported the arguments made by the
learned Attorney General. According to him, there is no
separate “privacy” right and violation of a fundamental right
should directly be traceable to rights expressly protected by
Part III of the Constitution. Further, privacy is a vague and
inchoate expression. He also referred to the Constituent
Assembly debates to buttress the same proposition that the
right to privacy was expressly discountenanced by the framers
of the Constitution. He went on to state that “personal liberty”
in Article 21 is liberty which is circumscribed – i.e. it relates only
to the person of the individual and is smaller conceptually than
“civil liberty”. According to him, the ratio of Kharak Singh
(supra) is that there is no fundamental right to privacy, but any
fundamental right that is basic to ordered liberty would certainly
be included as a fundamental right. According to him, Gobind
v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1975) 2 SCC 148, did not state
that there was any fundamental right to privacy and the later
10
judgments which referred only to Gobind (supra) as laying
down such a right are incorrect for this reason.
9. Shri Rakesh Dwivedi, learned senior counsel appearing
for the State of Gujarat, has argued that both the petitioners as
well as the learned Attorney General have taken extreme
positions. According to him, the petitioners state that in the
case of every invasion of a privacy right, howsoever trivial, the
fundamental right to privacy gets attracted, whereas according
to the learned Attorney General, there is no fundamental right
to privacy at all. He asked us to adopt an intermediate position
– namely, that it is only if the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard
that a petitioner before a Court satisfies the test of “reasonable
expectation of privacy” that such infraction of privacy can be
elevated to the level of a fundamental right. According to Shri
Dwivedi, individual personal choices made by an individual are
already protected under Article 21 under the rubric “personal
liberty”. It is only when individuals disclose certain personal
information in order to avail a benefit that it could be said that
they have no reasonable expectation of privacy as they have
voluntarily and freely parted with such information. Also,
11
according to him, it is only specialized data, if parted with,
which would require protection. As an example, he stated that
a person’s name and mobile number, already being in the
public domain, would not be reasonably expected by that
person to be something private. On the other hand, what is
contained in that person’s bank account could perhaps be
stated to be information over which he expects a reasonable
expectation of privacy and would, if divulged by the bank to
others, constitute an infraction of his fundamental right to
privacy. According to him:
“…when a claim of privacy seeks inclusion in Article
21 of the Constitution of India, the Court needs to
apply the reasonable expectation of privacy test. It
should see:–
(i) What is the context in which a privacy law is
set up.
(ii) Does the claim relate to private or family life,
or a confidential relationship.
(iii) Is the claim serious one or is it trivial.
(iv) Is the disclosure likely to result in any serious
or significant injury and the nature and the
extent of disclosure.
(v) Is disclosure for identification purpose or
relates to personal and sensitive information
of an identified person.
12
(vi) Does disclosure relate to information already
disclosed publicly to third parties or several
parties willingly and unconditionally. Is the
disclosure in the course of e commerce or
social media?
Assuming, that in a case that it is found that a claim
for privacy is protected by Article 21 of the
Constitution, the test should be following:-
(i) the infringement should be by legislation.
(ii) the legislation should be in public interest.
(iii) the legislation should be reasonable and have
nexus with the public interest.
(iv) the State would be entitled to adopt that
measure which would most efficiently achieve
the objective without being excessive.
(v) if apart from Article 21, the legislation infringes
any other specified Fundamental Right then it
must stand the test in relation to that specified
Fundamental Right.
(vi) Presumption of validity would attach to the
legislations.”
10. Shri A. Sengupta, appearing on behalf of the State of
Haryana, has supported the arguments of the learned Attorney
General and has gone on to state that even the U.S. Supreme
Court no longer uses the right to privacy to test laws that were
earlier tested on this ground. Any right to privacy is
13
conceptually unsound, and only comprehensive data protection
legislation can effectively address concerns of data protection
and privacy. The Government of India is indeed alive to the
need for such a law. He further argued that privacy as a
concept is always marshaled to protect liberty and, therefore,
argued that the formulation that should be made by this Court is
whether a liberty interest is at all affected; is such liberty
“personal liberty” or other liberty that deserves constitutional
protection and is there a countervailing legitimate State interest.
11. Shri Jugal Kishore, appearing on behalf of the State of
Chhattisgarh, has also broadly supported the stand of the
learned Attorney General.
12. Shri Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing on behalf of the
Centre for Civil Society, argued that M.P. Sharma (supra) and
Kharak Singh (supra) are correctly decided and must be
followed as there has been no change in the constitutional
context of privacy from Gopalan (supra) through R.C. Cooper
(supra) and Maneka Gandhi (supra). He further argued that
being incapable of precise definition, privacy ought not to be
14
elevated in all its aspects to the level of a fundamental right.
According to him, the words “life” and “personal liberty” in
Article 21 have already been widely interpreted to include many
facets of what the petitioners refer to as privacy. Those facets
which have statutory protection are not protected by Article 21.
He also argued that we must never forget that when
recognizing aspects of the right to privacy as a fundamental
right, such aspects cannot be waived and this being the case, a
privacy interest ought not to be raised to the level of a
fundamental right. He also cautioned us against importing
approaches from overseas out of context.
Early Views on Privacy
13. Any discussion with regard to a right of privacy of the
individual must necessarily begin with Semayne’s case, 77 ER
194. This case was decided in the year 1603, when there was a
change of guard in England. The Tudor dynasty ended with the
death of Elizabeth I, and the Stuart dynasty, a dynasty which
hailed from Scotland took over under James VI of Scotland,
15
who became James I of England.1
James I was an absolute
monarch who ruled believing that he did so by Divine Right.
Semayne’s case (supra) was decided in this historical setting.
14. The importance of Semayne’s case (supra) is that it
decided that every man’s home is his castle and fortress for his
defence against injury and violence, as well as for his repose.
William Pitt, the Elder, put it thus: “The poorest man may in his
cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail
— its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the
storm may enter, the rain may enter — but the King of England
cannot enter — all his force dare not cross the threshold of the
ruined tenement.” A century and a half later, pretty much the
same thing was said in Huckle v. Money, 95 ER 768 (1763), in
which it was held that Magistrates cannot exercise arbitrary
powers which violated the Magna Carta (signed by King John,
conceding certain rights to his barons in 1215), and if they did,
exemplary damages must be given for the same. It was stated
1
It is interesting to note that from 1066 onwards, England has never been ruled by a native Anglo-Saxon. The
Norman French dynasty which gave way to the Plantagenet dynasty ruled from 1066-1485; the Welsh Tudor
dynasty then ruled from 1485-1603 AD; the Stuart dynasty, a Scottish dynasty, then ruled from 1603; and barring a
minor hiccup in the form of Oliver Cromwell, ruled up to 1714. From 1714 onwards, members of a German dynasty
from Hanover have been monarchs of England and continue to be monarchs in England.
16
that, “To enter a man’s house by virtue of a nameless warrant,
in order to procure evidence is worse than the Spanish
Inquisition, a law under which no Englishman would wish to live
an hour.”
15. This statement of the law was echoed in Entick v.
Carrington, 95 ER 807 (1765), in which Lord Camden held that
an illegal search warrant was “subversive of all the comforts of
society” and the issuance of such a warrant for the seizure of all
of a man’s papers, and not only those alleged to be criminal in
nature, was “contrary to the genius of the law of England.” A
few years later, in Da Costa v. Jones, 98 ER 1331 (1778), Lord
Mansfield upheld the privacy of a third person when such
privacy was the subject matter of a wager, which was injurious
to the reputation of such third person. The wager in that case
was as to whether a certain Chevalier D’eon was a cheat and
imposter in that he was actually a woman. Such wager which
violated the privacy of a third person was held to be injurious to
the reputation of the third person for which damages were
awarded to the third person. These early judgments did much
to uphold the inviolability of the person of a citizen.
17
16. When we cross the Atlantic Ocean and go to the United
States, we find a very interesting article printed in the Harvard
Law Review in 1890 by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D.
Brandeis [(4 Harv. L. Rev. 193)]. The opening paragraph of the
said article is worth quoting:
“THAT the individual shall have full protection in
person and in property is a principle as old as the
common law; but it has been found necessary from
time to time to define anew the exact nature and
extent of such protection. Political, social, and
economic changes entail the recognition of new
rights, and the common law, in its eternal youth,
grows to meet the demands of society. Thus, in very
early times, the law gave a remedy only for physical
interference with life and property, for trespasses vi
et armis. Then the “right to life” served only to
protect the subject from battery in its various forms;
liberty meant freedom from actual restraint; and the
right to property secured to the individual his lands
and his cattle. Later, there came a recognition of
man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and his
intellect. Gradually the scope of these legal rights
broadened; and now the right to life has come to
mean the right to enjoy life,— the right to be let
alone; the right to liberty secures the exercise of
extensive civil privileges; and the term “property”
has grown to comprise every form of possession—
intangible, as well as tangible.”
17. This article is of great importance for the reason that it
spoke of the right of the individual “to be let alone”. It stated in
unmistakable terms that this right is not grounded as a property
18
right, but is grounded in having the right of an “inviolate
personality”. Limitations on this right were also discussed in
some detail, and remedies for the invasion of this right of
privacy were suggested, being an action of tort for damages in
all cases and perhaps an injunction in some. The right of
privacy as expounded in this article did not explore the
ramifications of the said right as against State action, but only
explored invasions of this right by private persons.
Three Great Dissents
18. When the Constitution of India was framed, the
fundamental rights chapter consisted of rights essentially of
citizens and persons against the State. Article 21, with which
we are directly concerned, was couched in negative form in
order to interdict State action that fell afoul of its contours. This
Article, which houses two great human rights, the right to life
and the right to personal liberty, was construed rather narrowly
by the early Supreme Court of India. But then, there were
Judges who had vision and dissented from their colleagues.
This judgment will refer to three great dissents by Justices Fazl
Ali, Subba Rao and Khanna.
19
19. Charles Evans Hughes, before he became the Chief
Justice of the United States and while he was still a member of
the New York Court of Appeals, delivered a set of six lectures
at Columbia University.2
The famous passage oft quoted in
many judgments comes from his second lecture. In words that
resonate even today, he stated:
“A dissent in a court of last resort is an appeal to the
brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a
future day, when a later decision may possibly
correct the error into which the dissenting judge
believes the court to have been betrayed…..”
20. Brandeis, J. had a somewhat different view. He cautioned
that “in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule
of law be settled than that it be settled right.” [See Burnet v.
Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393 at 406 (1932)]. John
P. Frank wrote, in 1958, of the Brandeis view as follows:
“Brandeis was a great institutional man. He realized
that …. random dissents …. weaken the institutional
impact of the Court and handicap it in the doing of
its fundamental job. Dissents …. need to be saved
for major matters if the Court is not to appear
indecisive and quarrelsome….. To have discarded
some of his separate opinions is a supreme
example of Brandeis’s sacrifice to the strength and
consistency of the Court. And he had his reward:
2
See, E. Gaffney Jr., “The Importance of Dissent and the Imperative of Judicial Civility” (1994) 28 Val. U.L. Rev 583.
20
his shots were all the harder because he chose his
ground.”3
21. Whichever way one looks at it, the foresight of Fazl Ali, J.
in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, 1950 SCR 88, simply
takes our breath away. The subject matter of challenge in the
said case was the validity of certain provisions of the Preventive
Detention Act of 1950. In a judgment which anticipated the
changes made in our constitutional law twenty years later, this
great Judge said:
“To my mind, the scheme of the Chapter dealing
with the fundamental rights does not contemplate
what is attributed to it, namely, that each article is a
code by itself and is independent of the others. In
my opinion, it cannot be said that articles 19, 20, 21
and 22 do not to some extent overlap each other.
The case of a person who is convicted of an offence
will come under articles 20 and 21 and also under
article 22 so far as his arrest and detention in
custody before trial are concerned. Preventive
detention, which is dealt with in article 22, also
amounts to deprivation of personal liberty which is
referred to in article 21, and is a violation of the right
of freedom of movement dealt with in article
19(1)(d). That there are other instances of
overlapping of articles in the Constitution may be
illustrated by reference to article 19(1)(f) and article
31 both of which deal with the right to property and
to some extent overlap each other.”
(at page 148)
3
John P. Frank, Book Review, 10 J. Legal Education 401, 404 (1958).
21
He went on thereafter to hold that the fact that “due process”
was not actually used in Article 21 would be of no moment. He
said:
“It will not be out of place to state here in a few
words how the Japanese Constitution came into
existence. It appears that on the 11th October,
1945, General McArthur directed the Japanese
Cabinet to initiate measures for the preparation of
the Japanese Constitution, but, as no progress was
made, it was decided in February, 1946, that the
problem of constitutional reform should be taken
over by the Government Section of the Supreme
Commander’s Headquarters. Subsequently the
Chief of this Section and the staff drafted the
Constitution with the help of American
constitutional lawyers who were called to assist the
Government Section in the task. This Constitution,
as a learned writer has remarked, bore on almost
every page evidences of its essentially Western
origin, and this characteristic was especially evident
in the preamble “particularly reminiscent of the
American Declaration of Independence, a preamble
which, it has been observed, no Japanese could
possibly have conceived or written and which few
could even understand” [See Ogg and Zink’s
“Modern Foreign Governments”]. One of the
characteristics of the Constitution which
undoubtedly bespeaks of direct American influence
is to be found in a lengthy chapter, consisting of 31
articles, entitled “Rights and Duties of the People,”
which provided for the first time an effective “Bill of
Rights” for the Japanese people. The usual
safeguards have been provided there against
apprehension without a warrant and against arrest
or detention without being informed of the charges
or without adequate cause (articles 33 and 34).
22
Now there are two matters which deserve to be
noticed:- (1) that the Japanese Constitution was
framed wholly under American influence; and (2)
that at the time it was framed the trend of judicial
opinion in America was in favour of confining the
meaning of the expression “due process of law” to
what is expressed by certain American writers by
the somewhat quaint but useful expression
“procedural due process.” That there was such a
trend would be clear from the following passage
which I quote from Carl Brent Swisher’s “The
Growth of Constitutional Power in the United States”
(page 107):-
“The American history of its
interpretation falls into three periods.
During the first period, covering roughly
the first century of government under
the Constitution, due process was
interpreted principally as a restriction
upon procedure—and largely the judicial
procedure—by which the government
exercised its powers. During the second
period, which, again roughly speaking,
extended through 1936, due process
was expanded to serve as a restriction
not merely upon procedure but upon the
substance of the activities in which the
government might engage. During the
third period, extending from 1936 to
date, the use of due process as a
substantive restriction has been largely
suspended or abandoned, leaving it
principally in its original status as a
restriction upon procedure.”
In the circumstances mentioned, it seems
permissible to surmise that the expression
“procedure established by law” as used in the
Japanese Constitution represented the current trend
23
of American judicial opinion with regard to “due
process of law,” and, if that is so, the expression as
used in our Constitution means all that the
American writers have read into the words
“procedural due process.” But I do not wish to base
any conclusions upon mere surmise and will try to
examine the whole question on its merits.
The word “law” may be used in an abstract or
concrete sense. Sometimes it is preceded by an
article such as “a” or “the” or by such words as
“any,” “all,” etc., and sometimes it is used without
any such prefix. But, generally, the word “law” has a
wider meaning when used in the abstract sense
without being preceded by an article. The question
to be decided is whether the word “law” means
nothing more than statute law.
Now whatever may be the meaning of the
expression “due process of law,” the word “law” is
common to that expression as well as “procedure
established by law” and though we are not bound to
adopt the construction put on “law” or “due process
of law” in America, yet since a number of eminent
American Judges have devoted much thought to the
subject, I am not prepared to hold that we can
derive no help from their opinions and we should
completely ignore them.”
(at pages 159-161)
He also went on to state that “law” in Article 21 means “valid
law”.
On all counts, his words were a cry in the wilderness. Insofar
as his vision that fundamental rights are not in distinct
watertight compartments but do overlap, it took twenty years for
24
this Court to realize how correct he was, and in R.C. Cooper
(supra), an 11-Judge Bench of this Court, agreeing with Fazl
Ali, J., finally held:
“52. In dealing with the argument that Article
31(2) is a complete code relating to infringement of
the right to property by compulsory acquisition, and
the validity of the law is not liable to be tested in the
light of the reasonableness of the restrictions
imposed thereby, it is necessary to bear in mind the
enunciation of the guarantee of fundamental rights
which has taken different forms. In some cases it is
an express declaration of a guaranteed right:
Articles 29(1), 30(1), 26, 25 & 32; in others to
ensure protection of individual rights they take
specific forms of restrictions on State action—
legislative or executive—Articles 14, 15, 16, 20, 21,
22(1), 27 and 28; in some others, it takes the form
of a positive declaration and simultaneously
enunciates the restriction thereon: Articles 19(1)
and 19(2) to (6); in some cases, it arises as an
implication from the delimitation of the authority of
the State, e.g., Articles 31(1) and 31(2); in still
others, it takes the form of a general prohibition
against the State as well as others: Articles 17, 23
and 24. The enunciation of rights either express or
by implication does not follow a uniform pattern. But
one thread runs through them: they seek to protect
the rights of the individual or groups of individuals
against infringement of those rights within specific
limits. Part III of the Constitution weaves a pattern of
guarantees on the texture of basic human rights.
The guarantees delimit the protection of those rights
in their allotted fields: they do not attempt to
enunciate distinct rights.
53. We are therefore unable to hold that the
challenge to the validity of the provision for
25
acquisition is liable to be tested only on the ground
of non-compliance with Article 31(2). Article 31(2)
requires that property must be acquired for a public
purpose and that it must be acquired under a law
with characteristics set out in that Article. Formal
compliance with the conditions under Article 31(2) is
not sufficient to negative the protection of the
guarantee of the right to property. Acquisition must
be under the authority of a law and the expression
“law” means a law which is within the competence
of the Legislature, and does not impair the
guarantee of the rights in Part III. We are unable,
therefore, to agree that Articles 19(1)(f) and 31(2)
are mutually exclusive.”4
(at page 289)
22. Insofar as the other part of Fazl Ali, J.’s judgment is
concerned, that “due process” was an elastic enough
expression to comprehend substantive due process, a recent
judgment in Mohd. Arif v. Registrar, Supreme Court of India
& Ors., (2014) 9 SCC 737, by a Constitution Bench of this
Court, has held:-
“27. The stage was now set for the judgment in
Maneka Gandhi (1978) 1 SCC 248. Several
judgments were delivered, and the upshot of all of
4
Shri Gopal Sankaranarayanan has argued that the statement contained in R.C. Cooper (supra) that 5 out of 6
learned Judges had held in Gopalan (supra) that Article 22 was a complete code and was to be read as such, is
incorrect. He referred to various extracts from the judgments in Gopalan (supra) to demonstrate that this was, in
fact, incorrect as Article 21 was read together with Article 22. While Shri Gopal Sankaranarayanan may be correct,
it is important to note that at least insofar as Article 19 was concerned, none of the judgments except that of Fazl
Ali, J. were prepared to read Articles 19 and 21 together. Therefore, on balance, it is important to note that R.C.
Cooper (supra) cleared the air to state that none of the fundamental rights can be construed as being mutually
exclusive.
26
them was that Article 21 was to be read along with
other fundamental rights, and so read not only has
the procedure established by law to be just, fair and
reasonable, but also the law itself has to be
reasonable as Articles 14 and 19 have now to be
read into Article 21. [See: at SCR pp. 646-648 per
Beg, CJ., at SCR pp. 669, 671-674 and 687 per
Bhagwati, J. and at SCR pp. 720-723 per Krishna
Iyer, J.]. Krishna Iyer, J. set out the new doctrine
with remarkable clarity thus (SCR p.723, para 85):
“85. To sum up, ‘procedure’ in
Article 21 means fair, not formal
procedure. ‘Law’ is reasonable law, not
any enacted piece. As
Article 22 specifically spells out the
procedural safeguards for preventive
and punitive detention, a law providing
for such detentions should conform to
Article 22. It has been rightly pointed out
that for other rights forming part of
personal liberty, the procedural
safeguards enshrined in Article 21 are
available. Otherwise, as the procedural
safeguards contained in Article 22 will
be available only in cases of preventive
and punitive detention, the right to life,
more fundamental than any other
forming part of personal liberty and
paramount to the happiness, dignity and
worth of the individual, will not be
entitled to any procedural safeguard
save such as a legislature’s mood
chooses.”
28. Close on the heels of Maneka Gandhi case
came Mithu vs. State of Punjab, (1983) 2 SCC 277,
in which case the Court noted as follows: (SCC pp.
283-84, para 6)
27
“6…In Sunil Batra v. Delhi
Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494, while
dealing with the question as to whether
a person awaiting death sentence can
be kept in solitary confinement, Krishna
Iyer J. said that though our Constitution
did not have a “due process” clause as
in the American Constitution; the same
consequence ensued after the decisions
in the Bank Nationalisation case (1970)
1 SCC 248, and Maneka Gandhi case
(1978) 1 SCC 248.…
In Bachan Singh (Bachan Singh v. State
of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684) which
upheld the constitutional validity of the
death penalty, Sarkaria J., speaking for
the majority, said that if Article 21 is
understood in accordance with the
interpretation put upon it in Maneka
Gandhi, it will read to say that: (SCC
p.730, para 136)
“136. No person shall be deprived
of his life or personal liberty except
according to fair, just and
reasonable procedure established
by valid law.”
The wheel has turned full circle. Substantive due
process is now to be applied to the fundamental
right to life and liberty.”5
5
Shri Rakesh Dwivedi has argued before us that in Maneka Gandhi (supra), Chandrachud, J. had, in paragraph 55
of the judgment, clearly stated that substantive due process is no part of the Constitution of India. He further
argued that Krishna Iyer, J.’s statement in Sunil Batra (supra) that a due process clause as contained in the U.S.
Constitution is now to be read into Article 21, is a standalone statement of the law and that “substantive due
process” is an expression which brings in its wake concepts which do not fit into the Constitution of India. It is not
possible to accept this contention for the reason that in the Constitution Bench decision in Mithu (supra),
Chandrachud, C.J., did not refer to his concurring judgment in Maneka Gandhi (supra), but instead referred, with
approval, to Krishna Iyer, J.’s statement of the law in paragraph 6. It is this statement that is reproduced in
paragraph 28 of Mohd. Arif (supra). Also, “substantive due process” in our context only means that a law can be
28
(at pages 755-756)
23. The second great dissent, which is of Subba Rao, J., in
Kharak Singh (supra), has a direct bearing on the question to
be decided by us.6
In this judgment, Regulation 237 of the U.P.
Police Regulations was challenged as violating fundamental
struck down under Article 21 if it is not fair, just or reasonable on substantive and not merely procedural grounds.
In any event, it is Chandrachud,C.J’s earlier view that is a standalone view. In Collector of Customs, Madras v.
Nathella Sampathu Chetty, (1962) 3 SCR 786 at 816, a Constitution Bench of this Court, when asked to apply
certain American decisions, stated the following:
“It would be seen that the decisions proceed on the application of the “due process” clause of
the American Constitution. Though the tests of ‘reasonableness’ laid down by clauses (2) to (6) of
Article 19 might in great part coincide with that for judging of ‘due process’, it must not be
assumed that these are identical, for it has to be borne in mind that the Constitution framers
deliberately avoided in this context the use of the expression ‘due process’ with its
comprehensiveness, flexibility and attendant vagueness, in favour of a somewhat more definite
word “reasonable”, and caution has, therefore, to be exercised before the literal application of
American decisions.”
Mathew, J. in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) Supp. SCR 1 at 824, 825 and 826 commented on this
particular passage thus:
“When a court adjudges that a legislation is bad on the ground that it is an unreasonable
restriction, it is drawing the elusive ingredients for its conclusion from several sources. In fact,
you measure the reasonableness of a restriction imposed by law by indulging in an authentic bit
of special legislation [See Learned Hand, Bill of Rights, p. 26]. “The words ‘reason’ and
‘reasonable’ denote for the common law lawyer ideas which the ‘Civilians’ and the ‘Canonists’
put under the head of the ‘law of nature’…”
“…The limitations in Article 19 of the Constitution open the doors to judicial review of legislation
in India in much the same manner as the doctrine of police power and its companion, the due
process clause, have done in the United States. The restrictions that might be imposed by the
Legislature to ensure the public interest must be reasonable and, therefore, the Court will have
to apply the yardstick of reason in adjudging the reasonableness. If you examine the cases
relating to the imposition of reasonable restrictions by a law, it will be found that all of them
adopt a standard which the American Supreme Court has adopted in adjudging reasonableness
of a legislation under the due process clause..”
“…In the light of what I have said, I am unable to understand how the word ‘reasonable’ is more
definite than the words ‘due process’…"
6
Chief Justice S.R. Das in his farewell speech had this to say about Subba Rao, J., “Then we have brother Subba
Rao, who is extremely unhappy because all our fundamental rights are going to the dogs on account of some illconceived
judgments of his colleagues which require reconsideration.”
29
rights under Article 19(1)(d) and Article 21. The Regulation
reads as follows:-
“Without prejudice to the right of Superintendents of
Police to put into practice any legal measures, such
as shadowing in cities, by which they find they can
keep in touch with suspects in particular localities or
special circumstances, surveillance may for most
practical purposes be defined as consisting of one
or more of the following measures:-
(a) Secret picketing of the house or approaches to
the house of suspects;
(b) domiciliary visits at night;
(c) through periodical inquiries by officers not below
the rank of Sub-Inspector into repute, habits,
associations, income, expenses and occupation;
(d) the reporting by constables and chaukidars of
movements and absences from home;
(e) the verification of movements and absences by
means of inquiry slips;
(f) the collection and record on a history-sheet of all
information bearing on conduct.”
24. All 6 Judges struck down sub-para (b), but Subba Rao, J.
joined by Shah, J., struck down the entire Regulation as
violating the individual’s right to privacy in the following words:
“Further, the right to personal liberty takes in not
only a right to be free from restrictions placed on his
movements, but also free from encroachments on
his private life. It is true our Constitution does not
expressly declare a right to privacy as a
fundamental right, but the said right is an essential
ingredient of personal liberty. Every democratic
30
country sanctifies domestic life; it is expected to
give him rest, physical happiness, peace of mind
and security. In the last resort, a person’s house,
where he lives with his family, is his “castle”: it is his
rampart against encroachment on his personal
liberty. The pregnant words of that famous Judge,
Frankfurter J., in Wolf v. Colorado (1949) 338 U.S.
25, pointing out the importance of the security of
one’s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the
police, could have no less application to an Indian
home as to an American one. If physical restraints
on a person’s movements affect his personal liberty,
physical encroachments on his private life would
affect it in a larger degree. Indeed, nothing is more
deleterious to a man’s physical happiness and
health than a calculated interference with his
privacy. We would, therefore, define the right of
personal liberty in Article 21 as a right of an
individual to be free from restrictions or
encroachments on his person, whether those
restrictions or encroachments are directly imposed
or indirectly brought about by calculated measures.
If so understood, all the acts of surveillance under
Regulation 236 infringe the fundamental right of the
petitioner under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
(at page 359)
The 8 Judge Bench Decision in M.P. Sharma and the 6
Judge Bench Decision in Kharak Singh
25. This takes us to the correctness of the aforesaid view,
firstly in light of the decision of the 8-Judge Bench in M.P.
Sharma (supra). The facts of that case disclose that certain
searches were made as a result of which a voluminous mass of
records was seized from various places. The petitioners prayed
31
that the search warrants which allowed such searches and
seizures to take place be quashed, based on an argument
founded on Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no
person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a
witness against himself. The argument which was turned down
by the Court was that since this kind of search would lead to the
discovery of several incriminating documents, a person
accused of an offence would be compelled to be a witness
against himself as such documents would incriminate him. This
argument was turned down with reference to the law of
testimonial compulsion in the U.S., the U.K. and in this country.
While dealing with the argument, this Court noticed that there is
nothing in our Constitution corresponding to the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which interdicts
unreasonable searches and seizures. In so holding, this Court
then observed:
“It is, therefore, clear that there is no basis in the
Indian law for the assumption that a search or
seizure of a thing or document is in itself to be
treated as compelled production of the same.
Indeed a little consideration will show that the two
are essentially different matters for the purpose
relevant to the present discussion. A notice to
produce is addressed to the party concerned and
32
his production in compliance therewith constitutes a
testimonial act by him within the meaning of article
20(3) as above explained. But search warrant is
addressed to an officer of the Government,
generally a police officer. Neither the search nor the
seizure are acts of the occupier of the searched
premises. They are acts of another to which he is
obliged to submit and are, therefore, not his
testimonial acts in any sense.”
“A power of search and seizure is in any system of
jurisprudence an overriding power of the State for
the protection of social security and that power is
necessarily regulated by law. When the Constitution
makers have thought fit not to subject such
regulation to constitutional limitations by recognition
of a fundamental right to privacy, analogous to the
American Fourth Amendment, we have no
justification to import it, into a totally different
fundamental right, by some process of strained
construction.”
(at pages 1096-1097)
26. The first thing that strikes one on reading the aforesaid
passage is that the Court resisted the invitation to read the U.S.
Fourth Amendment into the U.S. Fifth Amendment; in short it
refused to read or import the Fourth Amendment into the Indian
equivalent of that part of the Fifth Amendment which is the
same as Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India. Also, the
fundamental right to privacy, stated to be analogous to the
Fourth Amendment, was held to be something which could not
be read into Article 20(3).
33
27. The second interesting thing to be noted about these
observations is that there is no broad ratio in the said judgment
that a fundamental right to privacy is not available in Part III of
the Constitution. The observation is confined to Article 20(3).
Further, it is clear that the actual finding in the aforesaid case
had to do with the law which had developed in this Court as
well as the U.S. and the U.K. on Article 20(3) which, on the
facts of the case, was held not to be violated. Also we must not
forget that this was an early judgment of the Court, delivered in
the Gopalan (supra) era, which did not have the benefit of R.C.
Cooper (supra) or Maneka Gandhi (supra). Quite apart from
this, it is clear that by the time this judgment was delivered,
India was already a signatory to the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Article 12 of which states:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference
with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,
nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.
Everyone has the right to the protection of the law
against such interference or attacks.”
34
28. It has always been the law of this Court that international
treaties must be respected. Our Constitution contains Directive
Principle 51(c), which reads as under:
“51. The State shall endeavour to—
(a) & (b) xxx xxx xxx
(c) foster respect for international law and treaty
obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with
one another;”
In order that legislation be effected to implement an
international treaty, Article 253 removes legislative competence
from all the States and entrusts only the Parliament with such
legislation. Article 253 reads as follows:
“253. Legislation for giving effect to international
agreements. - Notwithstanding anything in the
foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has
power to make any law for the whole or any part of
the territory of India for implementing any treaty,
agreement or convention with any other country or
countries or any decision made at any international
conference, association or other body.”
We were shown judgments of the highest Courts in the
U.K. and the U.S in this behalf. At one extreme stands the
United Kingdom, which states that international treaties are not
a part of the laws administered in England. At the other end of
the spectrum, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares:
35
“xxx xxx xxx
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States
which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all
treaties made, or which shall be made, under the
authority of the United States, shall be the supreme
law of the land; and the judges in every state shall
be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or
laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
xxx xxx xxx”
It is thus clear that no succor can be drawn from the
experience of either the U.K. or the U.S. We must proceed in
accordance with the law laid down in the judgments of the
Supreme Court of India.
29. Observations of several judgments make it clear that in
the absence of any specific prohibition in municipal law,
international law forms part of Indian law and consequently
must be read into or as part of our fundamental rights. (For this
proposition, see: Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2
SCC 684 at paragraph 139, Francis Coralie Mullin v.
Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi & Ors., (1981) 1 SCC
608 at paragraph 8, Vishaka & Ors. v. State of Rajasthan &
Ors., (1997) 6 SCC 241 at paragraph 7 and National Legal
Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438 at
36
paragraphs 51-60). This last judgment is instructive in that it
refers to international treaties and covenants, the Constitution,
and various earlier judgments. The conclusion in paragraph 60
is as follows:
“The principles discussed hereinbefore on TGs and
the international conventions, including Yogyakarta
Principles, which we have found not inconsistent
with the various fundamental rights guaranteed
under the Indian Constitution, must be recognized
and followed, which has sufficient legal and
historical justification in our country.”
(at page 487)
30. In fact, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, makes
interesting reading in this context.
Section 2(1)(d) and (f) are important, and read as follows:
“2. Definitions. – (1) In this Act, unless the context
otherwise requires, -
(a) xxx xxx xxx
(b) xxx xxx xxx
(c) xxx xxx xxx
(d) “human rights” means the rights relating to
life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual
guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the
International Covenants and enforceable by courts
in India;
(e) xxx xxx xxx
(f) “International Covenants” means the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
and the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights adopted by the General
Assembly of the United Nations on the 16th
December, 1966 and such other Covenant or
37
Convention adopted by the General Assembly of
the United Nations as the Central Government may,
by notification, specify;”
31. In terms of Section 12(f), one important function of the
National Human Rights Commission is to study treaties and
other international instruments on human rights and make
recommendations for their effective implementation. In a recent
judgment delivered by Lokur, J. in Extra Judl. Exec. Victim
Families Association & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. in
W.P.(Crl.) No.129 of 2012 decided on July 14, 2017, this Court
highlighted the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 as
follows:-
“29. Keeping this in mind, as well as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, Parliament enacted
the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The
Statement of Objects and Reasons for the
Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 is of
considerable significance and accepts the
importance of issues relating to human rights with a
view, inter alia, to bring accountability and
transparency in human rights jurisprudence. The
Statement of Objects and Reasons reads as under:-
“1. India is a party to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural rights,
adopted by the General Assembly of the
United Nations on the 16th December,
1966. The human rights embodied in the
38
aforesaid covenants stand substantially
protected by the Constitution.
2. However, there has been growing
concern in the country and abroad about
issues relating to human rights. Having
regard to this, changing social realities
and the emerging trends in the nature of
crime and violence, Government has
been reviewing the existing laws,
procedures and systems of
administration of justice; with a view to
bringing about greater accountability
and transparency in them, and devising
efficient and effective methods of
dealing with the situation.
3. Wide ranging discussions were held
at various fora such as the Chief
Ministers’ Conference on Human Rights,
seminars organized in various parts of
the country and meetings with leaders of
various political parties. Taking into
account the views expressed in these
discussions, the present Bill is brought
before Parliament.”
30. Under the provisions of the Protection of Human
Rights Act, 1993 the NHRC has been constituted as
a high-powered statutory body whose Chairperson
is and always has been a retired Chief Justice of
India. Amongst others, a retired judge of the
Supreme Court and a retired Chief Justice of a High
Court is and has always been a member of the
NHRC.
31. In Ram Deo Chauhan v. Bani Kanta Das ((2010)
14 SCC 209), this Court recognized that the words
‘human rights’ though not defined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights have been defined in
the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 in very
39
broad terms and that these human rights are
enforceable by courts in India. This is what this
Court had to say in this regard in paragraphs 47-49
of the Report:
“Human rights are the basic, inherent,
immutable and inalienable rights to
which a person is entitled simply by
virtue of his being born a human. They
are such rights which are to be made
available as a matter of right. The
Constitution and legislations of a
civilised country recognise them since
they are so quintessentially part of every
human being. That is why every
democratic country committed to the
rule of law put into force mechanisms for
their enforcement and protection.
Human rights are universal in nature.
The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (hereinafter referred to as UDHR)
adopted by the General Assembly of the
United Nations on 10-12-1948
recognises and requires the observance
of certain universal rights, articulated
therein, to be human rights, and these
are acknowledged and accepted as
equal and inalienable and necessary for
the inherent dignity and development of
an individual. Consequently, though the
term “human rights” itself has not been
defined in UDHR, the nature and
content of human rights can be
understood from the rights enunciated
therein.
Possibly considering the wide sweep of
such basic rights, the definition of
“human rights” in the 1993 Act has been
40
designedly kept very broad to
encompass within it all the rights relating
to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the
individual guaranteed by the
Constitution or embodied in the
International Covenants and
enforceable by courts in India. Thus, if a
person has been guaranteed certain
rights either under the Constitution or
under an International Covenant or
under a law, and he is denied access to
such a right, then it amounts to a clear
violation of his human rights and NHRC
has the jurisdiction to intervene for
protecting it.”
32. It may also be noted that the “International Principles on
the Application of Human Rights to Communication
Surveillance” (hereinafter referred to as the “Necessary and
Proportionate Principles”), which were launched at the U.N.
Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2013, were the
product of a year-long consultation process among civil society,
privacy and technology experts. The Preamble to the
Necessary and Proportionate Principles states as follows:
“Privacy is a fundamental human right, and is
central to the maintenance of democratic societies.
It is essential to human dignity and it reinforces
other rights, such as freedom of expression and
information, and freedom of association, and is
recognized under international human rights
law…..”
41
33. Ignoring Article 12 of the 1948 Declaration would by itself
sound the death knell to the observations on the fundamental
right of privacy contained in M.P. Sharma (supra).
34. It is interesting to note that, in at least three later
judgments, this judgment was referred to only in passing in:
(1) Sharda v. Dharmpal, (2003) 4 SCC 493 at 513-514:
“54. The right to privacy has been developed by the
Supreme Court over a period of time. A bench of
eight judges in M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra (AIR
1954 SC 300), AIR at pp. 306-07, para 18, in the
context of search and seizure observed that:
“When the Constitution-makers have
thought fit not to subject such regulation
to constitutional limitations by
recognition of a fundamental right to
privacy, analogous to the American
Fourth Amendment, we have no
justification to import it, into a totally
different fundamental right, by some
process of strained construction.”
55. Similarly in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. (AIR
1963 SC 1295), the majority judgment observed
thus: (AIR p. 1303, para 20)
“The right of privacy is not a guaranteed
right under our Constitution and
therefore the attempt to ascertain the
movements of an individual which is
merely a manner in which privacy is
invaded is not an infringement of a
42
fundamental right guaranteed by Part
III.”
56. With the expansive interpretation of the phrase
“personal liberty”, this right has been read into
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. (See R.
Rajagopal v. State of T.N., (1994) 6 SCC 632 and
People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India,
(1997) 1 SCC 301). In some cases the right has
been held to amalgam of various rights.”
(2) District Registrar and Collector, Hyderabad & Anr. v.
Canara Bank etc., (2005) 1 SCC 496 at 516, where this Court
held:
“35. The earliest case in India to deal with “privacy”
and “search and seizure” was M.P. Sharma v.
Satish Chandra (1954 SCR 1077) in the context of
Article 19(1)(f) and Article 20(3) of the Constitution
of India. The contention that search and seizure
violated Article 19(1)(f) was rejected, the Court
holding that a mere search by itself did not affect
any right to property, and though seizure affected it,
such effect was only temporary and was a
reasonable restriction on the right. The question
whether search warrants for the seizure of
documents from the accused were unconstitutional
was not gone into. The Court, after referring to the
American authorities, observed that in the US,
because of the language in the Fourth Amendment,
there was a distinction between legal and illegal
searches and seizures and that such a distinction
need not be imported into our Constitution. The
Court opined that a search warrant was addressed
to an officer and not to the accused and did not
violate Article 20(3). In the present discussion the
case is of limited help. In fact, the law as to privacy
43
was developed in later cases by spelling it out from
the right to freedom of speech and expression in
Article 19(1)(a) and the right to “life” in Article 21.”
And (3) Selvi v. State of Karnataka, (2010) 7 SCC 263 at 363,
this Court held as follows:-
“205. In M.P. Sharma (M.P. Sharma v. Satish
Chandra, AIR 1954 SC 300: 1954 SCC 1077), it
had been noted that the Indian Constitution did not
explicitly include a “right to privacy” in a manner
akin to the Fourth Amendment of the US
Constitution. In that case, this distinction was one
of the reasons for upholding the validity of search
warrants issued for documents required to
investigate charges of misappropriation and
embezzlement.”
35. It will be seen that different smaller Benches of this court
were not unduly perturbed by the observations contained in
M.P. Sharma (supra) as it was an early judgment of this Court
delivered in the Gopalan (supra) era which had been eroded by
later judgments dealing with the inter-relation between
fundamental rights and the development of the fundamental
right of privacy as being part of the liberty and dignity of the
individual.
36. Therefore, given the fact that this judgment dealt only with
Article 20(3) and not with other fundamental rights; given the
44
fact that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
containing the right to privacy was not pointed out to the Court;
given the fact that it was delivered in an era when fundamental
rights had to be read disjunctively in watertight compartments;
and given the fact that Article 21 as we know it today only
sprung into life in the post Maneka Gandhi (supra) era, we are
of the view that this judgment is completely out of harm’s way
insofar as the grounding of the right to privacy in the
fundamental rights chapter is concerned.
37. We now come to the majority judgment of 4 learned
Judges in Kharak Singh (supra). When examining sub-clause
(b) of Regulation 236, which endorsed domiciliary visits at night,
even the majority had no hesitation in striking down the
aforesaid provision. This Court said that “life” used in Article 21
must mean something more than mere animal existence and
“liberty” something more than mere freedom from physical
restraint. This was after quoting the judgment of Field, J. in
Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1876). The majority judgment,
after quoting from Gopalan (supra), then went on to hold that
Article 19(1) and Article 21 are to be read separately, and so
45
read held that Article 19(1) deals with particular species or
attributes of personal liberty, whereas Article 21 takes in and
comprises the residue.7
38. This part of the judgment has been expressly overruled
by R.C. Cooper (supra) as recognized by Bhagwati, J. in
Maneka Gandhi (supra):
“5. It is obvious that Article 21, though couched in
negative language, confers the fundamental right to
life and personal liberty. So far as the right to
personal liberty is concerned, it is ensured by
providing that no one shall be deprived of personal
liberty except according to procedure prescribed by
law. The first question that arises for consideration
on the language of Article 21 is: what is the
meaning and content of the words ‘personal liberty’
as used in this article? This question incidentally
came up for discussion in some of the judgments
in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC
27: 1950 SCR 88: 51 Cri LJ 1383) and the
observations made by Patanjali Sastri, J.,
Mukherjea, J., and S.R. Das, J., seemed to place a
narrow interpretation on the words ‘personal liberty’
so as to confine the protection of Article 21 to
freedom of the person against unlawful detention.
But there was no definite pronouncement made on
this point since the question before the Court was
not so much the interpretation of the words
‘personal liberty’ as the inter-relation between
7
This view of the law is obviously incorrect. If the Preamble to the Constitution of India is to be a guide as to the
meaning of the expression “liberty” in Article 21, liberty of thought and expression would fall in Article 19(1)(a) and
Article 21 and belief, faith and worship in Article 25 and Article 21. Obviously, “liberty” in Article 21 is not confined
to these expressions, but certainly subsumes them. It is thus clear that when Article 21 speaks of “liberty”, it is,
atleast, to be read together with Articles 19(1)(a) and 25.
46
Articles 19 and 21. It was in Kharak Singh v. State
of U.P. (AIR 1963 SC 1295: (1964) 1 SCR 332:
(1963) 2 Cri LJ 329) that the question as to the
proper scope and meaning of the expression
‘personal liberty’ came up pointedly for
consideration for the first time before this Court. The
majority of the Judges took the view “that ‘personal
liberty’ is used in the article as a compendious term
to include within itself all the varieties of rights which
go to make up the ‘personal liberties’ of man other
than those dealt with in the several clauses of
Article 19(1). In other words, while Article 19(1)
deals with particular species or attributes of that
freedom, ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 takes in and
comprises the residue”. The minority Judges,
however, disagreed with this view taken by the
majority and explained their position in the following
words: “No doubt the expression ‘personal liberty’ is
a comprehensive one and the right to move freely is
an attribute of personal liberty. It is said that the
freedom to move freely is carved out of personal
liberty and, therefore, the expression ‘personal
liberty’ in Article 21 excludes that attribute. In our
view, this is not a correct approach. Both are
independent fundamental rights, though there is
overlapping. There is no question of one being
carved out of another. The fundamental right of life
and personal liberty has many attributes and some
of them are found in Article 19. If a person's
fundamental right under Article 21 is infringed, the
State can rely upon a law to sustain the action, but
that cannot be a complete answer unless the said
law satisfies the test laid down in Article 19(2) so far
as the attributes covered by Article 19(1) are
concerned.” There can be no doubt that in view of
the decision of this Court in R.C. Cooper v. Union of
India [(1970) 2 SCC 298: (1971) 1 SCR 512] the
minority view must be regarded as correct and the
majority view must be held to have been overruled.”
(at pages 278-279)
47
39. The majority judgment in Kharak Singh (supra) then
went on to refer to the Preamble to the Constitution, and stated
that Article 21 contained the cherished human value of dignity
of the individual as the means of ensuring his full development
and evolution. A passage was then quoted from Wolf v.
Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949) to the effect that the security of
one’s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police is basic to
a free society. The Court then went on to quote the U.S. Fourth
Amendment which guarantees the rights of the people to be
secured in their persons, houses, papers and effects against
unreasonable searches and seizures. Though the Indian
Constitution did not expressly confer a like guarantee, the
majority held that nonetheless an unauthorized intrusion into a
person’s home would violate the English Common Law maxim
which asserts that every man’s house is his castle. In this view
of Article 21, Regulation 236(b) was struck down.
40. However, while upholding sub-clauses (c), (d) and (e) of
Regulation 236, the Court stated (at page 351):
48
“As already pointed out, the right of privacy is not a
guaranteed right under our Constitution and
therefore the attempt to ascertain the movements of
an individual which is merely a manner in which
privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a
fundamental right guaranteed by Part III.”
This passage is a little curious in that clause (b) relating to
domiciliary visits was struck down only on the basis of the
fundamental right to privacy understood in the sense of a
restraint against the person of a citizen. It seems that the earlier
passage in the judgment which stated that despite the fact that
the U.S. Fourth Amendment was not reflected in the Indian
Constitution, yet any unauthorized intrusion into a person’s
home, which is nothing but a facet of the right to privacy, was
given a go by.
41. Peculiarly enough, without referring to the extracted
passage in which the majority held that the right to privacy is
not a guaranteed right under our Constitution, the majority
judgment has been held as recognizing a fundamental right to
privacy in Article 21. (See: PUCL v. Union of India, (1997) 1
SCC 301 at paragraph 14; Mr. ‘X’ v. Hospital ‘Z’, (1998) 8
SCC 296 at paragraphs 21 and 22; District Registrar and
49
Collector, Hyderabad & Anr. v. Canara Bank, etc., (2005) 1
SCC 496 at paragraph 36; and Thalappalam Service Cooperative
Bank Limited & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors.,
(2013) 16 SCC 82 at paragraph 57).
42. If the passage in the judgment dealing with domiciliary
visits at night and striking it down is contrasted with the later
passage upholding the other clauses of Regulation 236
extracted above, it becomes clear that it cannot be said with
any degree of clarity that the majority judgment upholds the
right to privacy as being contained in the fundamental rights
chapter or otherwise. As the majority judgment contradicts
itself on this vital aspect, it would be correct to say that it cannot
be given much value as a binding precedent. In any case, we
are of the view that the majority judgment is good law when it
speaks of Article 21 being designed to assure the dignity of the
individual as a most cherished human value which ensures the
means of full development and evolution of a human being.
The majority judgment is also correct in pointing out that Article
21 interdicts unauthorized intrusion into a person’s home.
Where the majority judgment goes wrong is in holding that
50
fundamental rights are in watertight compartments and in
holding that the right of privacy is not a guaranteed right under
our Constitution. It can be seen, therefore, that the majority
judgment is like the proverbial curate’s egg – good only in parts.
Strangely enough when the good parts alone are seen, there is
no real difference between Subba Rao, J.’s approach in the
dissenting judgment and the majority judgment. This then
answers the major part of the reference to this 9-Judge Bench
in that we hereby declare that neither the 8-Judge nor the 6-
Judge Bench can be read to come in the way of reading the
fundamental right to privacy into Part III of the Constitution.
43. However, the learned Attorney General has argued in
support of the 8-Judge Bench and the 6-Judge Bench, stating
that the framers of the Constitution expressly rejected the right
to privacy being made part of the fundament rights chapter of
the Constitution. While he may be right, Constituent Assembly
debates make interesting reading only to show us what exactly
the framers had in mind when they framed the Constitution of
India. As will be pointed out later in this judgment, our
judgments expressly recognize that the Constitution governs
51
the lives of 125 crore citizens of this country and must be
interpreted to respond to the changing needs of society at
different points in time.
44. The phrase “due process” was distinctly avoided by the
framers of the Constitution and replaced by the colourless
expression “procedure established by law”. Despite this, owing
to changed circumstances, Maneka Gandhi (supra) in 1978,
followed by a number of judgments, have read what was
expressly rejected by the framers into Article 21, so that by the
time of Mohd. Arif (supra), this Court, at paragraph 28, was
able to say that the wheel has turned full circle and substantive
due process is now part and parcel of Article 21. Given the
technological revolution of the later part of the 20
th century and
the completely altered lives that almost every citizen of this
country leads, thanks to this revolution, the right to privacy has
to be judged in today’s context and not yesterday’s. This
argument, therefore, need not detain us.
45. The learned Attorney General then argued that between
the right to life and the right to personal liberty, the former has
52
primacy and any claim to privacy which would destroy or erode
this basic foundational right can never be elevated to the status
of a fundamental right. Elaborating further, he stated that in a
developing country where millions of people are denied the
basic necessities of life and do not even have shelter, food,
clothing or jobs, no claim to a right to privacy as a fundamental
right would lie. First and foremost, we do not find any conflict
between the right to life and the right to personal liberty. Both
rights are natural and inalienable rights of every human being
and are required in order to develop his/her personality to the
fullest. Indeed, the right to life and the right to personal liberty
go hand-in-hand, with the right to personal liberty being an
extension of the right to life. A large number of poor people that
Shri Venugopal talks about are persons who in today’s
completely different and changed world have cell phones, and
would come forward to press the fundamental right of privacy,
both against the Government and against other private
individuals. We see no antipathy whatsoever between the rich
and the poor in this context. It seems to us that this argument
is made through the prism of the Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of
53
Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act,
2016, by which the Aadhar card is the means to see that
various beneficial schemes of the Government filter down to
persons for whom such schemes are intended. This 9-Judge
Bench has not been constituted to look into the constitutional
validity of the Aadhar Act, but it has been constituted to
consider a much larger question, namely, that the right of
privacy would be found, inter alia, in Article 21 in both “life” and
“personal liberty” by rich and poor alike primarily against State
action. This argument again does not impress us and is
rejected.
46. Both the learned Attorney General and Shri Sundaram
next argued that the right to privacy is so vague and amorphous
a concept that it cannot be held to be a fundamental right. This
again need not detain us. Mere absence of a definition which
would encompass the many contours of the right to privacy
need not deter us from recognizing privacy interests when we
see them. As this judgment will presently show, these interests
are broadly classified into interests pertaining to the physical
realm and interests pertaining to the mind. As case law, both in
54
the U.S. and India show, this concept has travelled far from the
mere right to be let alone to recognition of a large number of
privacy interests, which apart from privacy of one’s home and
protection from unreasonable searches and seizures have been
extended to protecting an individual’s interests in making vital
personal choices such as the right to abort a fetus; rights of
same sex couples- including the right to marry; rights as to
procreation, contraception, general family relationships, child
rearing, education, data protection, etc. This argument again
need not detain us any further and is rejected.
47. As to the argument that if information is already in the
public domain and has been parted with, there is no privacy
right, we may only indicate that the question as to “voluntary”
parting with information has been dealt with, in the judgment in
Miller v. United States, 425 US 435 (1976). This Court in
Canara Bank (supra) referred to the criticism of this judgment
as follows:
“(A) Criticism of Miller
(i) The majority in Miller, 425 US 435 (1976), laid
down that a customer who has conveyed his affairs
to another had thereby lost his privacy rights. Prof.
55
Tribe states in his treatise (see p. 1391) that this
theory reveals “alarming tendencies” because the
Court has gone back to the old theory that privacy is
in relation to property while it has laid down that the
right is one attached to the person rather than to
property. If the right is to be held to be not attached
to the person, then “we would not shield our
account balances, income figures and personal
telephone and address books from the public eye,
but might instead go about with the information
written on our ‘foreheads or our bumper stickers’.”
He observes that the majority in Miller, 425 US 435
(1976), confused “privacy” with “secrecy” and that
“even their notion of secrecy is a strange one, for
a secret remains a secret even when shared with
those whom one selects for one's confidence”. Our
cheques are not merely negotiable instruments but
yet the world can learn a vast amount about us by
knowing how and with whom we have spent our
money. Same is the position when we use the
telephone or post a letter. To say that one assumes
great risks by opening a bank account appeared to
be a wrong conclusion. Prof. Tribe asks a very
pertinent question (p. 1392):
“Yet one can hardly be said to
have assumed a risk of surveillance in a
context where, as a practical matter,
one had no choice. Only the most
committed — and perhaps civilly
committable — hermit can live without
a telephone, without a bank account,
without mail. To say that one must take
a bitter pill with the sweet when one
licks a stamp is to exact a high
constitutional price indeed for living in
contemporary society.”
He concludes (p. 1400):
56
“In our information-dense technological
era, when living inevitably entails
leaving not just informational footprints
but parts of one's self in myriad
directories, files, records and
computers, to hold that the Fourteenth
Amendment did not reserve to
individuals some power to say when and
how and by whom that information and
those confidences were to be used,
would be to denigrate the central role
that informational autonomy must play in
any developed concept of the self.”
(ii) Prof. Yale Kamisar (again quoted by Prof.
Tribe) (p. 1392) says:
“It is beginning to look as if the only way
someone living in our society can avoid
‘assuming the risk’ that various
intermediate institutions will reveal
information to the police is by engaging
in drastic discipline, the kind of discipline
of life under totalitarian regimes.”
(at pages 520-521)
It may also be noticed that Miller (supra) was done away
with by a Congressional Act of 1978. This Court then went on to
state:
“(B) Response to Miller by Congress
We shall next refer to the response by Congress
to Miller, 425 US 435 (1976). (As stated earlier, we
should not be understood as necessarily
recommending this law as a model for India.) Soon
57
after Miller, 425 US 435 (1976), Congress enacted
the Right to Financial Privacy Act, 1978 (Public Law
No. 95-630) 12 USC with Sections 3401 to 3422).
The statute accords customers of banks or similar
financial institutions, certain rights to be notified of
and a right to challenge the actions of Government
in court at an anterior stage before disclosure is
made. Section 3401 of the Act contains “definitions”.
Section 3402 is important, and it says that “except
as provided by Section 3403(c) or (d), 3413 or
3414, no government authority may have access to
or obtain copies of, or the information contained in
the financial records of any customer from a
financial institution unless the financial records are
reasonably described and that (1) such customer
has authorised such disclosure in accordance with
Section 3404; (2) such records are disclosed in
response to (a) administrative subpoenas or
summons to meet requirement of Section 3405; (b)
the requirements of a search warrant which meets
the requirements of Section 3406; (c) requirements
of a judicial subpoena which meets the requirement
of Section 3407; or (d) the requirements of a formal
written requirement under Section 3408. If the
customer decides to challenge the Government’s
access to the records, he may file a motion in the
appropriate US District Court, to prevent such
access. The Act also provides for certain specific
exceptions.” (at page 522)
48. Shri Sundaram has argued that rights have to be traced
directly to those expressly stated in the fundamental rights
chapter of the Constitution for such rights to receive protection,
and privacy is not one of them. It will be noticed that the dignity
of the individual is a cardinal value, which is expressed in the
58
Preamble to the Constitution. Such dignity is not expressly
stated as a right in the fundamental rights chapter, but has
been read into the right to life and personal liberty. The right to
live with dignity is expressly read into Article 21 by the judgment
in Jolly George Varghese v. Bank of Cochin, (1980) 2 SCC
360 at paragraph 10. Similarly, the right against bar fetters and
handcuffing being integral to an individual’s dignity was read
into Article 21 by the judgment in Charles Sobraj v. Delhi
Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494 at paragraphs 192, 197-B,
234 and 241 and Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi
Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526 at paragraphs 21 and 22. It
is too late in the day to canvas that a fundamental right must be
traceable to express language in Part III of the Constitution. As
will be pointed out later in this judgment, a Constitution has to
be read in such a way that words deliver up principles that are
to be followed and if this is kept in mind, it is clear that the
concept of privacy is contained not merely in personal liberty,
but also in the dignity of the individual.
49. The judgment in Stanley v. Georgia, 22 L.Ed. 2d 542 at
549, 550 and 551 (1969) will serve to illustrate how privacy is
59
conceptually different from an expressly enumerated
fundamental right. In this case, the appellant before the Court
was tried and convicted under a Georgia statute for knowingly
having possession of obscene material in his home. The U.S.
Supreme Court referred to judgments which had held that
obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected
speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Yet, the Court held:
“It is now well established that the Constitution
protects the right to receive information and ideas.
“This freedom [of speech and press] … necessarily
protects the right to receive……” Martin v. City of
Struthers, 319 US 141, 143, 87 L Ed 1313, 1316, 63
S Ct 862 (1943); see Griswold v. Connecticut, 381
US 479, 482, 14 L Ed 2d 510, 513, 85 S Ct 1678
(1965); Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S.
301, 307-308, 14 L Ed 2d 398, 402, 403, 85 S Ct
1493 (1965) (Brennan, J., concurring); cf. Pierce v.
Society of the Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 69 L Ed 1070,
45 S Ct 571, 39 ALR 468 (1925). This right to
receive information and ideas, regardless of their
social worth, see Winters v. New York, 333 US 507,
510, 92 L Ed 840, 847, 68 S Ct 665 (1948), is
fundamental to our free society. Moreover, in the
context of this case—a prosecution for mere
possession of printed or filmed matter in the privacy
of a person's own home—that right takes on an
added dimension. For also fundamental is the right
to be free, except in very limited circumstances,
from unwanted governmental intrusions into one's
privacy…
60
These are the rights that appellant is asserting in
the case before us. He is asserting the right to read
or observe what he pleases—the right to satisfy his
intellectual and emotional needs in the privacy of his
own home. He is asserting the right to be free from
state inquiry into the contents of his library. Georgia
contends that appellant does not have these rights,
that there are certain types of materials that the
individual may not read or even possess. Georgia
justifies this assertion by arguing that the films in the
present case are obscene. But we think that mere
categorization of these films as “obscene” is
insufficient justification for such a drastic invasion of
personal liberties guaranteed by the First and
Fourteenth Amendments. Whatever may be the
justifications for other statutes regulating obscenity,
we do not think they reach into the privacy of one's
own home. If the First Amendment means anything,
it means that a State has no business telling a man,
sitting alone in his own house, what books he may
read or what films he may watch. Our whole
constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving
government the power to control men's minds.”
(Emphasis Supplied)
The Court concluded by stating:
“We hold that the First and Fourteenth Amendments
prohibit making mere private possession of obscene
material a crime. Roth and the cases following that
decision are not impaired by today's holding. As we
have said, the States retain broad power to regulate
obscenity; that power simply does not extend to
mere possession by the individual in the privacy of
his own home.”
50. This case, more than any other, brings out in bold relief,
the difference between the right to privacy and the right to
61
freedom of speech. Obscenity was held to be outside the
freedom of speech amended by the First Amendment, but a
privacy interest which related to the right to read obscene
material was protected under the very same Amendment.
Obviously, therefore, neither is privacy as vague and
amorphous as has been argued, nor is it correct to state that
unless it finds express mention in a provision in Part III of the
Constitution, it should not be regarded as a fundamental right.
51. Shri Sundaram’s argument that personal liberty is
different from civil liberty need not detain us at all for the reason
that at least qua the fundament right to privacy — that right
being intimately connected with the liberty of the person would
certainly fall within the expression “personal liberty”.
52. According to Shri Sundaram, every facet of privacy is not
protected. Instances of actions which, according to him, are not
protected are:
• “Taxation laws requiring the furnishing of
information;
• In relation to a census;
62
• Details and documents required to be
furnished for the purpose of obtaining a passport;
• Prohibitions pertaining to viewing
pornography.”
53. We are afraid that this is really putting the cart before the
horse. Taxation laws which require the furnishing of information
certainly impinge upon the privacy of every individual which
ought to receive protection. Indeed, most taxation laws which
require the furnishing of such information also have, as a
concomitant provision, provisions which prohibit the
dissemination of such information to others except under
specified circumstances which have relation to some legitimate
or important State or societal interest. The same would be the
case in relation to a census and details and documents
required to be furnished for obtaining a passport. Prohibitions
pertaining to viewing pornography have been dealt with earlier
in this judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in
Stanley (supra) held that such prohibitions would be invalid if
the State were to intrude into the privacy of one’s home.
63
54. The learned Attorney General drew our attention to a
number of judgments which have held that there is no
fundamental right to trade in liquor and cited Khoday
Distilleries Ltd. v. State of Karnataka, (1995) 1 SCC 574.
Quite obviously, nobody has the fundamental right to carry on
business in crime. Indeed, in a situation where liquor is
expressly permitted to be sold under a licence, it would be
difficult to state that such seller of liquor would not have the
fundamental right to trade under Article 19(1)(g), even though
the purport of some of our decisions seems to stating exactly
that – See the difference in approach between the earlier
Constitution Bench judgment in Krishna Kumar Narula v.
State of Jammu and Kashmir, (1967) 3 SCR 50, and the later
Constitution Bench judgment in Har Shankar v. The Dy.
Excise and Taxation Commr., (1975) 1 SCC 737. In any
event, the analogy to be drawn from the cases dealing with
liquor does not take us further for the simple reason that the
fundamental right to privacy once recognized, must yield in
given circumstances to legitimate State interests in combating
crime. But this arises only after recognition of the right to
64
privacy as a fundamental right and not before. What must be a
reasonable restriction in the interest of a legitimate State
interest or in public interest cannot determine whether the
intrusion into a person’s affairs is or is not a fundamental right.
Every State intrusion into privacy interests which deals with the
physical body or the dissemination of information personal to an
individual or personal choices relating to the individual would be
subjected to the balancing test prescribed under the
fundamental right that it infringes depending upon where the
privacy interest claimed is founded.
55. The learned Attorney General and Shri Tushar Mehta,
learned Additional Solicitor General, in particular, argued that
our statutes are replete with a recognition of the right to privacy,
and Shri Tushar Mehta cited provisions of the Right to
Information Act, 2005, the Indian Easements Act, 1882, the
Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the
Bankers’ Books Evidence Act, 1891, the Credit Information
Companies (Regulation) Act, 2005, the Public Financial
Institutions (Obligation as to Fidelity and Secrecy) Act, 1983,
the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007, the Income
65
Tax Act, 1961, the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and
other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the Census
Act, 1948, the Collection of Statistics Act, 2008, the Juvenile
Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, the
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the
Information Technology Act, 2000. According to them, since
these statutes already protect the privacy rights of individuals, it
is unnecessary to read a fundamental right of privacy into Part
III of the Constitution.
56. Statutory law can be made and also unmade by a simple
Parliamentary majority. In short, the ruling party can, at will, do
away with any or all of the protections contained in the statutes
mentioned hereinabove. Fundamental rights, on the other
hand, are contained in the Constitution so that there would be
rights that the citizens of this country may enjoy despite the
governments that they may elect. This is all the more so when
a particular fundamental right like privacy of the individual is an
“inalienable” right which inheres in the individual because he is
a human being. The recognition of such right in the
fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution is only a
66
recognition that such right exists notwithstanding the shifting
sands of majority governments. Statutes may protect
fundamental rights; they may also infringe them. In case any
existing statute or any statute to be made in the future is an
infringement of the inalienable right to privacy, this Court would
then be required to test such statute against such fundamental
right and if it is found that there is an infringement of such right,
without any countervailing societal or public interest, it would be
the duty of this Court to declare such legislation to be void as
offending the fundamental right to privacy. This argument,
therefore, also merits rejection.
57. Shri Rakesh Dwivedi referred copiously to the
“reasonable expectation of privacy” test laid down by decisions
of the U.S. Supreme Court. The origin of this test is to be found
in the concurring judgment of Harlan, J. in Katz v. United
States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). Though this test has been applied
by several subsequent decisions, even in the United States, the
application of this test has been criticized.
67
58. In Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 119 S.Ct. 469 at
477 (1998), the concurring judgment of Scalia, J. criticized the
application of the aforesaid test in the following terms:
“The dissent believes that “[o]ur obligation to
produce coherent results” requires that we ignore
this clear text and 4-century-old tradition, and apply
instead the notoriously unhelpful test adopted in a
“benchmar[k]” decision that is 31 years old. Post, at
110, citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88
S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). In my view, the
only thing the past three decades have established
about the Katz test (which has come to mean the
test enunciated by Justice Harlan’s separate
concurrence in Katz, see id., at 360, 88 S.Ct. 507) is
that, unsurprisingly, those “actual (subjective)
expectation[s] of privacy” “that society is prepared to
recognize as ‘reasonable,’ ” id., at 361, 88 S.Ct.
507, bear an uncanny resemblance to those
expectations of privacy that this Court considers
reasonable. When that self-indulgent test is
employed (as the dissent would employ it here) to
determine whether a “search or seizure” within the
meaning of the Constitution has occurred (as
opposed to whether that “search or seizure” is an
“unreasonable” one), it has no plausible foundation
in the text of the Fourth Amendment. That provision
did not guarantee some generalized “right of
privacy” and leave it to this Court to determine
which particular manifestations of the value of
privacy “society is prepared to recognize as
‘reasonable’.” Ibid.”
In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 121 S. Ct. 2038
at 2043 (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court found that the use of a
68
thermal imaging device, aimed at a private home from a public
street, to detect relative amounts of heat within the private
home would be an invasion of the privacy of the individual. In
so holding, the U.S. Supreme Court stated:
“The Katz test—whether the individual has an
expectation of privacy that society is prepared to
recognize as reasonable—has often been criticized
as circular, and hence subjective and unpredictable.
See 1 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure §2.1(d), pp.
393-394 (3d ed. 1996); Posner, The Uncertain
Protection of Privacy by the Supreme Court, 1979
S. Ct. Rev. 173, 188; Carter, supra, at 97, 119 S.
Ct. 469 (SCALIA, J., concurring). But
see Rakas, supra, at 143-144, n. 12, 99 S. Ct. 421.
While it may be difficult to refine Katz when the
search of areas such as telephone booths,
automobiles, or even the curtilage and uncovered
portions of residences are at issue, in the case of
the search of the interior of homes—the prototypical
and hence most commonly litigated area of
protected privacy—there is a ready criterion, with
roots deep in the common law, of the minimal
expectation of privacy that exists, and that is
acknowledged to be reasonable. To withdraw
protection of this minimum expectation would be to
permit police technology to erode the privacy
guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. We think
that obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any
information regarding the interior of the home that
could not otherwise have been obtained without
physical “intrusion into a constitutionally protected
area,” Silverman, 365 U.S., at 512, 81 S. Ct. 679
constitutes a search—at least where (as here) the
technology in question is not in general public use.
This assures preservation of that degree of privacy
69
against government that existed when the Fourth
Amendment was adopted.”
59. It is clear, therefore, that in the country of its origin, this
test though followed in certain subsequent judgments, has been
the subject matter of criticism. There is no doubt that such a
test has no plausible foundation in the text of Articles 14, 19, 20
or 21 of our Constitution. Also, as has rightly been held, the
test is circular in the sense that there is no invasion of privacy
unless the individual whose privacy is invaded had a
reasonable expectation of privacy. Whether such individual will
or will not have such an expectation ought to depend on what
the position in law is. Also, this test is intrinsically linked with
the test of voluntarily parting with information, inasmuch as if
information is voluntarily parted with, the person concerned can
reasonably be said to have no expectation of any privacy
interest. This is nothing other than reading of the “reasonable
expectation of privacy” with the test in Miller (supra), which is
that if information is voluntarily parted with, no right to privacy
exists. As has been held by us, in Canara Bank (supra), this
Court referred to Miller (supra) and the criticism that it has
70
received in the country of its origin, and refused to apply it in
the Indian context. Also, as has been discussed above, soon
after Miller (supra), the Congress enacted the Right
to Financial Privacy Act, 1978, doing away with the substratum
of this judgment. Shri Dwivedi’s argument must, therefore,
stand rejected.
60. Shri Gopal Sankaranarayanan, relying upon the
statement of law in Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. State of
Bombay, (1955) 1 SCR 613, Basheshar Nath v. CIT, (1959)
Supp. (1) SCR 528 and Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal
Corporation, (1985) 3 SCC 545, has argued that it is well
established that fundamental rights cannot be waived. Since
this is the law in this country, if this Court were to hold that the
right to privacy is a fundamental right, then it would not be
possible to waive any part of such right and consequently would
lead to the following complications:
• All the statutory provisions that deal with aspects of
privacy would be vulnerable.
71
• The State would be barred from contractually obtaining
virtually any information about a person, including
identification, fingerprints, residential address,
photographs, employment details, etc., unless they were
all found to be not a part of the right to privacy.
• The consequence would be that the judiciary would be
testing what aspects of privacy could be excluded from
Article 21 rather than what can be included in Article 21.
This argument again need not detain us. Statutory
provisions that deal with aspects of privacy would continue to
be tested on the ground that they would violate the fundamental
right to privacy, and would not be struck down, if it is found on a
balancing test that the social or public interest and the
reasonableness of the restrictions would outweigh the particular
aspect of privacy claimed. If this is so, then statutes which
would enable the State to contractually obtain information about
persons would pass muster in given circumstances, provided
they safeguard the individual right to privacy as well. A simple
example would suffice. If a person was to paste on Facebook
72
vital information about himself/herself, such information, being
in the public domain, could not possibly be claimed as a
privacy right after such disclosure. But, in pursuance of a
statutory requirement, if certain details need to be
given for the concerned statutory purpose, then such details
would certainly affect the right to privacy, but would on a
balance, pass muster as the State action concerned has
sufficient inbuilt safeguards to protect this right – viz. the fact
that such information cannot be disseminated to anyone else,
save on compelling grounds of public interest.
The Fundamental Right to Privacy
61. This conclusion brings us to where the right to privacy
resides and what its contours are. But before getting into this
knotty question, it is important to restate a few constitutional
fundamentals.
62. Never must we forget the great John Marshall, C.J.’s
admonition that it is a Constitution that we are expounding.
[(see: McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 at 407 (1819)].
Indeed a Constitution is meant to govern people’s lives, and as
73
people’s lives keep evolving and changing with the times, so
does the interpretation of the Constitution to keep pace with
such changes. This was well expressed in at least two
judgments of this Court. In Ashok Tanwar & Anr. v. State of
H.P. & Ors., (2005) 2 SCC 104, a Constitution Bench stated as
follows:
“This apart, the interpretation of a provision of the
Constitution having regard to various aspects
serving the purpose and mandate of the
Constitution by this Court stands on a separate
footing. A constitution unlike other statutes is meant
to be a durable instrument to serve through longer
number of years, i.e., ages without frequent
revision. It is intended to serve the needs of the day
when it was enacted and also to meet needs of the
changing conditions of the future. This Court in R.C.
Poudyal v. Union of India, 1994 Supp (1) SCC 324,
in paragraph 124, observed thus:
“124. In judicial review of the vires of the
exercise of a constitutional power such
as the one under Article 2, the
significance and importance of the
political components of the decision
deemed fit by Parliament cannot be put
out of consideration as long as the
conditions do not violate the
constitutional fundamentals. In the
interpretation of a constitutional
document, ‘words are but the framework
of concepts and concepts may change
more than words themselves’. The
significance of the change of the
concepts themselves is vital and the
74
constitutional issues are not solved by a
mere appeal to the meaning of the
words without an acceptance of the line
of their growth. It is aptly said that ‘the
intention of a Constitution is rather to
outline principles than to engrave
details’.”
In the First B.N. Rau Memorial Lecture on “Judicial
Methods” M. Hidayatullah, J. observed:
“More freedom exists in the
interpretation of the Constitution than in
the interpretation of ordinary laws. This
is due to the fact that the ordinary law is
more often before courts, that there are
always dicta of judges readily available
while in the domain of constitutional law
there is again and again novelty of
situation and approach.”
Chief Justice Marshall while deciding the celebrated
McCulloch v. Maryland [4 Wheaton (17 US) 316 : 4
L Ed 579 (1819)] (Wheaton at p. 407, L.Ed. at p.
602) made the pregnant remark—“we must never
forget that it is the constitution we are
expounding”— meaning thereby that it is a question
of new meaning in new circumstances. Cardozo in
his lectures also said: “The great generalities of the
Constitution have a content and a significance that
vary from age to age.” Chief Justice Marshall in
McCulloch v. Maryland [4 Wheaton (17 US) 316 : 4
L Ed 579 (1819)] (L.Ed at pp 603-604) declared that
the Constitution was “intended to endure for ages to
come, and consequently, to be adapted to the
various crises of human affairs”. In this regard it is
worthwhile to see the observations made in
paragraphs 324 to 326 in Supreme Court
75
Advocates-on-Record Assn, (1993) 4 SCC 441:
(SCC pp. 645-46)
“324. The case before us must be
considered in the light of our entire
experience and not merely in that of
what was said by the framers of the
Constitution. While deciding the
questions posed before us we must
consider what is the judiciary today and
not what it was fifty years back. The
Constitution has not only to be read in
the light of contemporary circumstances
and values, it has to be read in such a
way that the circumstances and values
of the present generation are given
expression in its provisions. An eminent
jurist observed that ‘constitutional
interpretation is as much a process of
creation as one of discovery.’
325. It would be useful to quote
hereunder a paragraph from the
judgment of Supreme Court of Canada
in Hunter v. Southam Inc. (1984) 2 SCR
145: [SCR at p.156 (Can)]
‘It is clear that the meaning of
“unreasonable” cannot be determined
by recourse to a dictionary, nor for that
matter, by reference to the rules of
statutory construction. The task of
expounding a Constitution is crucially
different from that of construing a
statute. A statute defines present rights
and obligations. It is easily enacted and
as easily repealed. A Constitution, by
contrast, is drafted with an eye to the
future. Its function is to provide a
continuing framework for the legitimate
76
exercise of governmental power and,
when joined by a Bill or a Charter of
Rights, for the unremitting protection of
individual rights and liberties. Once
enacted, its provisions cannot easily be
repealed or amended. It must, therefore,
be capable of growth and development
over time to meet new social, political
and historical realities often unimagined
by its framers. The judiciary is the
guardian of the Constitution and must, in
interpreting its provisions, bear these
considerations in mind. Professor Paul
Freund expressed this idea aptly when
he admonished the American Courts
“not to read the provisions of the
Constitution like a last will and
testament lest it become one”.’
326. The constitutional provisions
cannot be cut down by technical
construction rather it has to be given
liberal and meaningful interpretation.
The ordinary rules and presumptions,
brought in aid to interpret the statutes,
cannot be made applicable while
interpreting the provisions of the
Constitution. In Minister of Home Affairs
v. Fisher [(1979) 3 All ER 21 : 1980 AC
319] dealing with Bermudian
Constitution, Lord Wilberforce reiterated
that a Constitution is a document ‘sui
generis, calling for principles of
interpretation of its own, suitable to its
character’.”
This Court in Aruna Roy v. Union of India, (2002) 7
SCC 368, recalled the famous words of the Chief
Justice Holmes that “spirit of law is not logic but it
has been experience” and observed that these
words apply with greater force to constitutional law.
77
In the same judgment this Court expressed that
Constitution is a permanent document framed by
the people and has been accepted by the people to
govern them for all times to come and that the
words and expressions used in the Constitution, in
that sense, have no fixed meaning and must receive
interpretation based on the experience of the people
in the course of working of the Constitution. The
same thing cannot be said in relation to interpreting
the words and expressions in a statute.”
(at pages 114-116)
63. To similar effect is the judgment of a 9-Judge Bench in
I.R. Coelho (dead) by LRs v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.,
(2007) 2 SCC 1, which states:
“42. The Constitution is a living document. The
constitutional provisions have to be construed
having regard to the march of time and the
development of law. It is, therefore, necessary that
while construing the doctrine of basic structure due
regard be had to various decisions which led to
expansion and development of the law.”
(at page 79)
64. It is in this background that the fundamental rights chapter
has been interpreted. We may also refer to paragraph 19 in M.
Nagaraj & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (2006) 8 SCC 212,
for the proposition that any true interpretation of fundamental
rights must be expansive, like the universe in which we live.
78
The content of fundamental rights keeps expanding to keep
pace with human activity.
65. It is as a result of constitutional interpretation that after
Maneka Gandhi (supra), Article 21 has been the repository of a
vast multitude of human rights8
.
66. In India, therefore, the doctrine of originalism, which was
referred to and relied upon by Shri Sundaram has no place.
According to this doctrine, the first inquiry to be made is
8
(1) The right to go abroad. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248 at paras 5, 48, 90, 171 and 216; (2)
The right of prisoners against bar fetters. Charles Sobraj v. Delhi Administration (1978) 4 SCC 494 at paras 192,
197-B, 234 and 241; (3) The right to legal aid. M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544 at para 12; (4)
The right to bail. Babu Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1978) 1 SCC 579 at para 8; (5) The right to live with dignity.
Jolly George Varghese v. Bank of Cochin (1980) 2 SCC 360 at para 10; (6) The right against handcuffing. Prem
Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration (1980) 3 SCC 526 at paras 21 and 22; (7) The right against custodial
violence. Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra (1983) 2 SCC 96 at para 1; (8) The right to compensation for
unlawful arrest. Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983) 4 SCC 141 at para 10; (9) The right to earn a livelihood. Olga
Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) 3 SCC 545 at para 37; (10) The right to know. Reliance
Petrochemicals Ltd. v. Proprietors of Indian Express Newspapers (1988) 4 SCC 592 at para 34; (11) The right
against public hanging. A.G. of India v. Lachma Devi (1989) Supp (1) SCC 264 at para 1; (12) The right to doctor’s
assistance at government hospitals. Paramanand Katara v. Union of India (1989) 4 SCC 286 at para 8; (13) The
right to medical care. Paramanand Katara v. Union of India (1989) 4 SCC 286 at para 8; (14) The right to shelter.
Shantistar Builders v. N.K. Totame (1990) 1 SCC 520 at para 9 and 13; (15) The right to pollution free water and air.
Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991) 1 SCC 598 at para 7; (16) The right to speedy trial. A.R. Antulay v. R.S.
Nayak (1992) 1 SCC 225 at para 86; (17) The right against illegal detention. Joginder Kumar v. State of Uttar
Pradesh (1994) 4 SCC 260 at paras 20 and 21; (18) The right to a healthy environment. Virender Gaur v. State of
Haryana (1995) 2 SCC 577 at para 7; (19) The right to health and medical care for workers. Consumer Education
and Research Centre v. Union of India (1995) 3 SCC 42 at paras 24 and 25; (20) The right to a clean environment.
Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC 647 at paras 13, 16 and 17; (21) The right against
sexual harassment. Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan and others (1997) 6 SCC 241 at paras 3 and 7; (22)
The right against noise pollution. In Re, Noise Pollution (2005) 5 SCC 733 at para 117; (23) The right to fair trial.
Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr. v. State of Gujarat & Ors. (2006) 3 SCC 374 at paras 36 and 38; (24) The right to
sleep. In Re, Ramlila Maidan Incident (2012) 5 SCC 1 at paras 311 and 318; (25) The right to reputation. Umesh
Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2013) 10 SCC 591 at para 18; (26) The right against solitary confinement.
Shatrugan Chauhan & Anr. v. Union of India (2014) 3 SCC 1 at para 241.
79
whether the founding fathers had accepted or rejected a
particular right in the Constitution. According to the learned
Attorney General and Shri Sundaram, the right to privacy has
been considered and expressly rejected by our founding
fathers. At the second level, according to this doctrine, it is not
open to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution in a
manner that will give effect to a right that has been rejected by
the founding fathers. This can only be done by amending the
Constitution. It was, therefore, urged that it was not open for us
to interpret the fundamental rights chapter in such a manner as
to introduce a fundamental right to privacy, when the founding
fathers had rejected the same. It is only the Parliament in its
constituent capacity that can introduce such a right. This
contention must be rejected having regard to the authorities
cited above. Further, in our Constitution, it is not left to all the
three organs of the State to interpret the Constitution. When a
substantial question as to the interpretation of the Constitution
arises, it is this Court and this Court alone under Article 145(3)
that is to decide what the interpretation of the Constitution shall
80
be, and for this purpose the Constitution entrusts this task to a
minimum of 5 Judges of this Court.
67. Does a fundamental right to privacy reside primarily in
Article 21 read with certain other fundamental rights?
68. At this point, it is important to advert to the U.S. Supreme
Court’s development of the right of privacy.
The earlier cases tended to see the right of privacy as a
property right as they were part of what was called the ‘Lochner
era’ during which the doctrine of substantive due process
elevated property rights over societal interests9
. Thus in an
early case, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 at 474,
478 and 479 (1928), the majority of the Court held that wiretaps
attached to telephone wires on public streets did not constitute
a “search” under the Fourth Amendment since there was no
physical entry into any house or office of the defendants. In a
classic dissenting judgment, Louis Brandeis, J. held that this
9
This era lasted from the early 20th Century till 1937, when the proverbial switch in time that saved nine was made
by Justice Roberts. It was only from 1937 onwards that President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislations were upheld
by a majority of 5:4, having been struck down by a majority of 5:4 previously.
81
was too narrow a construction of the Fourth Amendment and
said in words that were futuristic that:
“Moreover, “in the application of a constitution, our
contemplation cannot be only of what has been but
of what may be.” The progress of science in
furnishing the Government with means of espionage
is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may
someday be developed by which the Government,
without removing papers from secret drawers, can
reproduce them in court, and by which it will be
enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate
occurrences of the home. Advances in the psychic
and related sciences may bring means of exploring
unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions. “That
places the liberty of every man in the hands of every
petty officer” was said by James Otis of much lesser
intrusions than these. To Lord Camden, a far
slighter intrusion seemed “subversive of all the
comforts of society.” Can it be that the Constitution
affords no protection against such invasions of
individual security?”
69. Also in a ringing declaration of the right to privacy, that
great Judge borrowed from his own co-authored article, written
almost 40 years earlier, in order to state that the right of privacy
is a constitutionally protected right:
“The protection guaranteed by the Amendments is
much broader in scope. The makers of our
Constitution undertook to secure conditions
favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They
recognized the significance of man’s spiritual
nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They
knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and
82
satisfaction of life are to be found in material things.
They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs,
their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations.
They conferred, as against the Government, the
right to be let alone – the most comprehensive of
rights, and the right most valued by civilized men.
To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by
the Government upon the privacy of the individual
whatever the means employed, must be deemed a
violation of the Fourth Amendment. And the use, as
evidence in a criminal proceeding, of facts
ascertained by such intrusion must be deemed a
violation of the Fifth.”
Brandeis, J.’s view was held as being the correct view of
the law in Katz (supra).
70. A large number of judgments of the U.S. Supreme Court
since Katz (supra) have recognized the right to privacy as
falling in one or other of the clauses of the Bill of Rights in the
U.S. Constitution. Thus, in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S.
479 (1965), Douglas, J.’s majority opinion found that the right to
privacy was contained in the penumbral regions of the First,
Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Goldberg, J. found this right to be embedded in the Ninth
Amendment which states that certain rights which are not
enumerated are nonetheless recognized as being reserved to
the people. White, J. found this right in the due process clause
83
of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the deprivation
of a person’s liberty without following due process. This view of
the law was recognized and applied in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.
113 (1973), in which a woman’s right to choose for herself
whether or not to abort a fetus was established, until the fetus
was found “viable”. Other judgments also recognized this right
of independence of choice in personal decisions relating to
marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12, 87 S.Ct. 1817,
1823, 18 L.Ed.2d 1010 (1967); procreation, Skinner v.
Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541-542, 62 S.Ct. 1110, 1113-1114,
86 L.Ed. 1655 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405
U.S. 438, 453-454, 92 S.Ct. 1029, 1038-1039, 31 L.Ed.2d 349
(1972), family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321
U.S. 158, 166, 64 S.Ct. 438, 442, 88 L.Ed. 645 (1944); and
child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268
U.S. 510, 535, 45 S.Ct. 571, 573, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925).
71. In a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in United
States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), the U.S. Supreme
Court’s majority judgment traces the right of privacy through the
84
labyrinth of case law in Part II of Scalia, J.’s opinion, and
regards it as a constitutionally protected right.
72. Based upon the prevalent thinking of the U.S. Supreme
Court, a seminal judgment was delivered by Mathew,
J. in Gobind (supra). This judgment dealt with the M.P. Police
Regulations, similar to the Police Regulations contained in
Kharak Singh (supra). After setting out the majority and
minority opinions in the said judgment, Mathew, J. went on to
discuss the U.S. Supreme Court judgments in Griswold (supra)
and Roe (supra). In a very instructive passage the learned
Judge held:
“22. There can be no doubt that privacy-dignity
claims deserve to be examined with care and to be
denied only when an important countervailing
interest is shown to be superior. If the Court does
find that a claimed right is entitled to protection as a
fundamental privacy right, a law infringing it must
satisfy the compelling State interest test. Then the
question would be whether a State interest is of
such paramount importance as would justify an
infringement of the right. Obviously, if the
enforcement of morality were held to be a
compelling as well as a permissible State interest,
the characterization of a claimed right as a
fundamental privacy right would be of far less
significance. The question whether enforcement of
morality is a State interest sufficient to justify the
infringement of a fundamental privacy right need not
85
be considered for the purpose of this case and
therefore we refuse to enter the controversial thicket
whether enforcement of morality is a function of
State.
23. Individual autonomy, perhaps the central
concern of any system of limited government, is
protected in part under our Constitution by explicit
constitutional guarantees. In the application of the
Constitution our contemplation cannot only be of
what has been but what may be. Time works
changes and brings into existence new conditions.
Subtler and far reaching means of invading privacy
will make it possible to be heard in the street what is
whispered in the closet. Yet, too broad a definition
of privacy raises serious questions about the
propriety of judicial reliance on a right that is not
explicit in the Constitution. Of course, privacy
primarily concerns the individuals. It therefore
relates to and overlaps with the concept of liberty.
The most serious advocate of privacy must confess
that there are serious problems of defining the
essence and scope of the right. Privacy interest in
autonomy must also be placed in the context of
other rights and values.
24. Any right to privacy must encompass and
protect the personal intimacies of the home, the
family marriage, motherhood, procreation and child
rearing. This catalogue approach to the question is
obviously not as instructive as it does not give
analytical picture of distinctive characteristics of the
right of privacy. Perhaps, the only suggestion that
can be offered as unifying principle underlying the
concept has been the assertion that a claimed right
must be a fundamental right implicit in the concept
of ordered liberty.
27. There are two possible theories for protecting
privacy of home. The first is that activities in the
86
home harm others only to the extent that they cause
offence resulting from the mere thought that
individuals might be engaging in such activities and
that such ‘harm’ is not constitutionally protectable by
the State. The second is that individuals need a
place of sanctuary where they can be free from
societal control. The importance of such a sanctuary
is that individuals can drop the mask, desist for a
while from projecting on the world the image they
want to be accepted as themselves, an image that
may reflect the values of their peers rather than the
realities of their natures.
28. The right to privacy in any event will
necessarily have to go through a process of caseby-case
development. Therefore, even assuming
that the right to personal liberty, the right to move
freely throughout the territory of India and the
freedom of speech create an independent right of
privacy as an emanation from them which one can
characterize as a fundamental right, we do not think
that the right is absolute.”
(at pages 155-157)
The Police Regulations were, however, not struck down,
but were termed as being perilously close to being
unconstitutional.
73. Shri Sundaram has brought to our notice the fact that
Mathew, J. did not declare privacy as a fundamental right. By
this judgment, he reached certain conclusions on the
assumption that it was a fundamental right. He is correct in this
submission. However, this would not take the matter very
87
much further inasmuch as even though the later judgments
have referred to Gobind (supra) as the starting point of the
fundamental right to privacy, in our view, for the reasons given
by us in this judgment, even dehors Gobind (supra) these
cases can be supported on the ground that there exists a
fundamental right to privacy.
74. In R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1994) 6 SCC
632, this Court had to decide on the rights of privacy vis-a-vis
the freedom of the press, and in so doing, referred to a large
number of judgments and arrived at the following conclusion:
“26. We may now summarise the broad principles
flowing from the above discussion:
(1) The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life
and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country
by Article 21. It is a “right to be let alone”. A citizen
has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his
family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, childbearing
and education among other matters. None
can publish anything concerning the above matters
without his consent—whether truthful or otherwise
and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so, he
would be violating the right to privacy of the person
concerned and would be liable in an action for
damages. Position may, however, be different, if a
person voluntarily thrusts himself into controversy or
voluntarily invites or raises a controversy.
88
(2) The rule aforesaid is subject to the exception,
that any publication concerning the aforesaid
aspects becomes unobjectionable if such
publication is based upon public records including
court records. This is for the reason that once a
matter becomes a matter of public record, the right
to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes a
legitimate subject for comment by press and media
among others. We are, however, of the opinion that
in the interests of decency [Article 19(2)] an
exception must be carved out to this rule, viz., a
female who is the victim of a sexual assault, kidnap,
abduction or a like offence should not further be
subjected to the indignity of her name and the
incident being publicised in press/media.
(3) There is yet another exception to the rule in (1)
above—indeed, this is not an exception but an
independent rule. In the case of public officials, it is
obvious, right to privacy, or for that matter, the
remedy of action for damages is simply not
available with respect to their acts and conduct
relevant to the discharge of their official duties. This
is so even where the publication is based upon facts
and statements which are not true, unless the
official establishes that the publication was made
(by the defendant) with reckless disregard for truth.
In such a case, it would be enough for the
defendant (member of the press or media) to prove
that he acted after a reasonable verification of the
facts; it is not necessary for him to prove that what
he has written is true. Of course, where the
publication is proved to be false and actuated by
malice or personal animosity, the defendant would
have no defence and would be liable for damages.
It is equally obvious that in matters not relevant to
the discharge of his duties, the public official enjoys
the same protection as any other citizen, as
explained in (1) and (2) above. It needs no
reiteration that judiciary, which is protected by the
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power to punish for contempt of court and
Parliament and legislatures protected as their
privileges are by Articles 105 and 104 respectively
of the Constitution of India, represent exceptions to
this rule.
(4) So far as the Government, local authority and
other organs and institutions exercising
governmental power are concerned, they cannot
maintain a suit for damages for defaming them.
(5) Rules 3 and 4 do not, however, mean
that Official Secrets Act, 1923, or any similar
enactment or provision having the force of law does
not bind the press or media.
(6) There is no law empowering the State or its
officials to prohibit, or to impose a prior restraint
upon the press/media.”10
(at pages 649-651)
75. Similarly, in PUCL v. Union of India, (1997) 1 SCC 301,
this Court dealt with telephone tapping as follows:
“17. We have, therefore, no hesitation in holding
that right to privacy is a part of the right to “life” and
“personal liberty” enshrined under Article 21 of the
Constitution. Once the facts in a given case
constitute a right to privacy, Article 21 is attracted.
The said right cannot be curtailed “except according
to procedure established by law”.
18. The right to privacy—by itself—has not been
identified under the Constitution. As a concept it
may be too broad and moralistic to define it
judicially. Whether right to privacy can be claimed or
has been infringed in a given case would depend on
10 It will be noticed that this judgment grounds the right of privacy in Article 21. However, the Court was dealing
with the aforesaid right not in the context of State action, but in the context of press freedom.
90
the facts of the said case. But the right to hold a
telephone conversation in the privacy of one’s home
or office without interference can certainly be
claimed as “right to privacy”. Conversations on the
telephone are often of an intimate and confidential
character. Telephone conversation is a part of
modern man’s life. It is considered so important that
more and more people are carrying mobile
telephone instruments in their pockets. Telephone
conversation is an important facet of a man’s private
life. Right to privacy would certainly include
telephone conversation in the privacy of one’s home
or office. Telephone-tapping would, thus,
infract Article 21 of the Constitution of India unless it
is permitted under the procedure established by
law.”
(at page 311)
The Court then went on to apply Article 17 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 which
recognizes the right to privacy and also referred to Article 12 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 which is in the
same terms. It then imported these international law concepts
to interpret Article 21 in accordance with these concepts.
76. In Sharda v. Dharmpal (supra), this Court was
concerned with whether a medical examination could be
ordered by a Court in a divorce proceeding. After referring to
some of the judgments of this Court and the U.K. Courts, this
Court held:
91
“81. To sum up, our conclusions are:
1. A matrimonial court has the power to order a
person to undergo medical test.
2. Passing of such an order by the court would not
be in violation of the right to personal liberty
under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
3. However, the court should exercise such a power
if the applicant has a strong prima facie case and
there is sufficient material before the court. If
despite the order of the court, the respondent
refuses to submit himself to medical examination,
the court will be entitled to draw an adverse
inference against him.”
(at page 524)
In Canara Bank (supra), this Court struck down Section
73 of the Andhra Pradesh Stamp Act, as it concluded that the
involuntary impounding of documents under the said provision
would be violative of the fundamental right of privacy contained
in Article 21. The Court exhaustively went into the issue and
cited many U.K. and U.S. judgments. After so doing, it
analysed some of this Court’s judgments and held:
“53. Once we have accepted in Gobind [(1975) 2
SCC 148 : 1975 SCC (Cri) 468] and in later cases
that the right to privacy deals with “persons and not
places”, the documents or copies of documents of
the customer which are in a bank, must continue to
remain confidential vis-a-vis the person, even if they
are no longer at the customer’s house and have
been voluntarily sent to a bank. If that be the correct
92
view of the law, we cannot accept the line of Miller,
425 US 435 (1976), in which the Court proceeded
on the basis that the right to privacy is referable to
the right of “property” theory. Once that is so, then
unless there is some probable or reasonable cause
or reasonable basis or material before the Collector
for reaching an opinion that the documents in the
possession of the bank tend to secure any duty or
to prove or to lead to the discovery of any fraud or
omission in relation to any duty, the search or taking
notes or extracts therefore, cannot be valid. The
above safeguards must necessarily be read into the
provision relating to search and inspection and
seizure so as to save it from any unconstitutionality.
56. In Smt. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India,
(1978) 1 SCC 248, a seven-Judge Bench decision,
P.N. Bhagwati, J. (as His Lordship then was) held
that the expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 is
of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of
rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of
man and some of them have been raised to the
status of distinct fundamental rights and given
additional protection under Article 19 (emphasis
supplied). Any law interfering with personal liberty of
a person must satisfy a triple test: (i) it must
prescribe a procedure; (ii) the procedure must
withstand the test of one or more of the fundamental
rights conferred under Article 19 which may be
applicable in a given situation; and (iii) it must also
be liable to be tested with reference to Article 14. As
the test propounded by Article 14 pervades Article
21 as well, the law and procedure authorizing
interference with personal liberty and right of privacy
must also be right and just and fair and not arbitrary,
fanciful or oppressive. If the procedure prescribed
does not satisfy the requirement of Article 14 it
would be no procedure at all within the meaning
of Article 21.”
(at pages 523 and 524)
93
In Selvi v. State of Karnataka (supra), this Court went
into an in depth analysis of the right in the context of lie detector
tests used to detect alleged criminals. A number of judgments
of this Court were examined and this Court, recognizing the
difference between privacy in a physical sense and the privacy
of one’s mental processes, held that both received
constitutional protection. This was stated in the following words:
“224. Moreover, a distinction must be made
between the character of restraints placed on the
right to privacy. While the ordinary exercise of police
powers contemplates restraints of a physical nature
such as the extraction of bodily substances and the
use of reasonable force for subjecting a person to a
medical examination, it is not viable to extend these
police powers to the forcible extraction of
testimonial responses. In conceptualising the “right
to privacy” we must highlight the distinction between
privacy in a physical sense and the privacy of one’s
mental processes.
225. So far, the judicial understanding of privacy in
our country has mostly stressed on the protection of
the body and physical spaces from intrusive actions
by the State. While the scheme of criminal
procedure as well as evidence law mandates
interference with physical privacy through statutory
provisions that enable arrest, detention, search and
seizure among others, the same cannot be the
basis for compelling a person “to impart personal
knowledge about a relevant fact”. The theory of
interrelationship of rights mandates that the right
against self-incrimination should also be read as a
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component of “personal liberty” under Article
21. Hence, our understanding of the “right to
privacy” should account for its intersection
with Article 20(3). Furthermore, the “rule against
involuntary confessions” as embodied in Sections
24, 25, 26 and 27 of the Evidence Act, 1872 seeks
to serve both the objectives of reliability as well as
voluntariness of testimony given in a custodial
setting. A conjunctive reading of Articles 20(3) and
21 of the Constitution along with the principles of
evidence law leads us to a clear answer. We must
recognise the importance of personal autonomy in
aspects such as the choice between remaining
silent and speaking. An individual’s decision to
make a statement is the product of a private choice
and there should be no scope for any other
individual to interfere with such autonomy,
especially in circumstances where the person faces
exposure to criminal charges or penalties.”
(at pages 369-370)
77. All this leads to a discussion on what exactly is the
fundamental right of privacy – where does it fit in Chapter III of
the Constitution, and what are the parameters of its
constitutional protection.
78. In an instructive article reported in Volume 64 of the
California Law Review, written in 1976, Gary L. Bostwick
suggested that the right to privacy in fact encompasses three
separate and distinct rights. According to the learned author,
these three components are the components of repose,
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sanctuary, and intimate decision. The learned author puts it
thus (at pages 1482-1483):-
“The extent of constitutional protection is not the
only distinction between the types of privacy. Each
zone protects a unique type of human transaction.
Repose maintains the actor’s peace; sanctuary
allows an individual to keep some things private,
and intimate decision grants the freedom to act in
an autonomous fashion. Whenever a generalized
claim to privacy is put forward without distinguishing
carefully between the transactional types, parties
and courts alike may become hopelessly muddled
in obscure claims. The clear standards that appear
within each zone are frequently ignored by
claimants anxious to retain some aspect of their
personal liberty and by courts impatient with the
indiscriminate invocation of privacy.
Finally, it should be recognized that the right of
privacy is a continually evolving right. This
Comment has attempted to show what findings of
fact will lead to the legal conclusion that a person
has a right to privacy. Yet the same findings of fact
may lead to different conclusions of law as time
passes and society’s ideas change about how much
privacy is reasonable and what kinds of decisions
are best left to individual choice. Future litigants
must look to such changes in community concerns
and national acceptance of ideas as harbingers of
corresponding changes in the contours of the zones
of privacy.”
79. Shortly thereafter, in 1977, an instructive judgment is to
be found in Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589 at 598 and 599 by
the U.S. Supreme Court. This case dealt with a legislation by
96
the State of New York in which the State, in a centralized
computer file, registered the names and addresses of all
persons who have obtained, pursuant to a Doctor’s
prescription, certain drugs for which there is both a lawful and
unlawful market. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute,
finding that it would seem clear that the State’s vital interest in
controlling the distribution of dangerous drugs would support
the legislation at hand. In an instructive footnote – 23 to the
judgment, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the right to
privacy was grounded after Roe (supra) in the Fourteenth
Amendment’s concept of personal liberty. Having thus
grounded the right, the U.S. Supreme Court in a very significant
passage stated:
“At the very least, it would seem clear that the
State’s vital interest in controlling the distribution of
dangerous drugs would support a decision to
experiment with new techniques for control…
…Appellees contend that the statute invades a
constitutionally protected “zone of privacy.” The
cases sometimes characterized as protecting
“privacy” have in fact involved at least two different
kinds of interests. One is the individual interest in
avoiding disclosure of personal matters, and
another is the interest in independence in making
certain kinds of important decisions.”
97
80. In fact, in the Constitution of South Africa of 1996, which
Constitution was framed after apartheid was thrown over by the
South African people, the right to privacy has been expressly
declared as a fundamental freedom as follows:
“10. Human dignity
Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have
their dignity respected and protected.
12. Freedom and security of the person
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom and security
of the person, which includes the right—
(a) not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or
without just cause;
(b) not to be detained without trial;
(c) to be free from all forms of violence from either
public or private sources;
(d) not to be tortured in any way; and
(e) not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman
or degrading way.
(2) Everyone has the right to bodily and
psychological integrity, which includes the right—
(a) to make decisions concerning reproduction;
(b) to security in and control over their body; and
(c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific
experiments without their informed consent.
14. Privacy
Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes
the right not to have—
98
(a) their person or home searched;
(b) their property searched;
(c) their possessions seized; or
(d) the privacy of their communications infringed.”
The Constitutional Court of South Africa in NM & Ors. v.
Smith & Ors., 2007 (5) SA 250 (CC), had this to say about the
fundamental right to privacy recognized by the South African
Constitution:
“131. The right to privacy recognizes the
importance of protecting the sphere of our personal
daily lives from the public. In so doing, it highlights
the inter-relationship between privacy, liberty and
dignity as the key constitutional rights which
construct our understanding of what it means to be
a human being. All these rights are therefore interdependent
and mutually reinforcing. We value
privacy for this reason at least – that the
constitutional conception of being a human being
asserts and seeks to foster the possibility of human
beings choosing how to live their lives within the
overall framework of a broader community. The
protection of this autonomy, which flows from our
recognition of individual human worth, presupposes
personal space within which to live this life.
132. This first reason for asserting the value of
privacy therefore lies in our constitutional
understanding of what it means to be a human
being. An implicit part of this aspect of privacy is
the right to choose what personal information of
ours is released into the public space. The more
99
intimate that information, the more important it is in
fostering privacy, dignity and autonomy that an
individual makes the primary decision whether to
release the information. That decision should not
be made by others. This aspect of the right to
privacy must be respected by all of us, not only the
state...”
(Emphasis Supplied)
81. In the Indian context, a fundamental right to privacy would
cover at least the following three aspects:
• Privacy that involves the person i.e. when there is some
invasion by the State of a person’s rights relatable to
his physical body, such as the right to move freely;
• Informational privacy which does not deal with a
person’s body but deals with a person’s mind, and
therefore recognizes that an individual may have
control over the dissemination of material that is
personal to him. Unauthorised use of such information
may, therefore lead to infringement of this right; and
• The privacy of choice, which protects an individual’s
autonomy over fundamental personal choices.
For instance, we can ground physical privacy or privacy relating
to the body in Articles 19(1)(d) and (e) read with Article 21;
100
ground personal information privacy under Article 21; and the
privacy of choice in Articles 19(1)(a) to (c), 20(3), 21 and 25.
The argument based on ‘privacy’ being a vague and nebulous
concept need not, therefore, detain us.
82. We have been referred to the Preamble of the
Constitution, which can be said to reflect core constitutional
values. The core value of the nation being democratic, for
example, would be hollow unless persons in a democracy are
able to develop fully in order to make informed choices for
themselves which affect their daily lives and their choice of how
they are to be governed.
83. In his well-known thesis “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill, as
far back as in 1859, had this to say:
“…. the sole end for which mankind are warranted,
individually or collectively, in interfering with the
liberty of action of any of their number, is selfprotection.
That the only purpose for which power
can be rightfully exercised over any member of a
civilised community, against his will, is to prevent
harm to others. His own good, either physical or
moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot
rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it
will be better for him to do so, because it will make
him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to
do so would be wise, or even right. These are good
101
reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning
with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but
not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil
in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct
from which it is desired to deter him must be
calculated to produce evil to someone else. The
only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is
amenable to society, is that which concerns others.
In the part which merely concerns himself, his
independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself,
over his own body and mind, the individual is
sovereign.
(…)
This, then, is the appropriate region of human
liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of
consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience in
the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought
and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and
sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative,
scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of
expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall
under a different principle, since it belongs to that
part of the conduct of an individual which concerns
other people; but, being almost of as much
importance as the liberty of thought itself, and
resting in great part on the same reasons, is
practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the
principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of
framing the plan of our life to suit our own character;
of doing as we like, subject to such consequences
as may follow: without impediment from our fellow
creatures, so long as what we do does not harm
them, even though they should think our conduct
foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty
of each individual, follows the liberty, within the
same limits, of combination among individuals;
freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm
to others: the persons combining being supposed to
be of full age, and not forced or deceived.
102
No society in which these liberties are not, on the
whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form
or government; and none is completely free in which
they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only
freedom which deserves the name, is that of
pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as
we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or
impede their efforts to obtain it.”
Noting the importance of liberty to individuality, Mill wrote:
“It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is
individual in themselves, but by cultivating it, and
calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights
and interests of others, that human beings become
a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and
as the works partake the character of those who do
them, by the same process human life also
becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing
more abundant aliment to high thoughts and
elevating feelings, and strengthening the tie which
binds every individual to the race, by making the
race infinitely better worth belonging to. In
proportion to the development of his individuality,
each person becomes more valuable to himself,
and is therefore capable of being more valuable to
others. There is a greater fullness of life about his
own existence, and when there is more life in the
units there is more in the mass which is composed
of them….. The means of development which the
individual loses by being prevented from gratifying
his inclinations to the injury of others, are chiefly
obtained at the expense of the development of other
people…. To be held to rigid rules of justice for the
sake of others, develops the feelings and capacities
which have the good of others for their object. But
to be restrained in things not affecting their good, by
their mere displeasure, develops nothing valuable,
except such force of character as may unfold itself
in resisting the restraint. If acquiesced in, it dulls
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and blunts the whole nature. To give any fair play to
the nature of each, it is essential that different
persons should be allowed to lead different lives.”
(Emphasis Supplied)
84. “Liberty” in the Preamble to the Constitution, is said to be
of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. This cardinal
value can be found strewn all over the fundamental rights
chapter. It can be found in Articles 19(1)(a), 20, 21, 25 and 26.
As is well known, this cardinal constitutional value has been
borrowed from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen of 1789, which defined “liberty” in Article 4 as follows:
“Liberty consists in being able to do anything that
does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the
natural rights of every man has no bounds other
than those that ensure to the other members of
society the enjoyment of these same rights. These
bounds may be determined only by Law.”
Even in this limited sense, privacy begins where liberty ends –
when others are harmed, in one sense, issues relating to
reputation, restraints on physical locomotion etc. set in. It is,
therefore, difficult to accept the argument of Shri Gopal
104
Subramanium that “liberty” and “privacy” are interchangeable
concepts. Equally, it is difficult to accept the Respondents’
submission that there is no concept of “privacy”, but only the
constitutional concept of “ordered liberty”. Arguments of both
sides on this score must, therefore, be rejected.
85. But most important of all is the cardinal value of fraternity
which assures the dignity of the individual.11 The dignity of the
individual encompasses the right of the individual to develop to
the full extent of his potential. And this development can only
be if an individual has autonomy over fundamental personal
choices and control over dissemination of personal information
which may be infringed through an unauthorized use of such
information. It is clear that Article 21, more than any of the
other Articles in the fundamental rights chapter, reflects each of
11 In 1834, Jacques-Charles Dupont de l’Eure associated the three terms liberty, equality and fraternity together in
the Revue Républicaine, which he edited, as follows:
“Any man aspires to liberty, to equality, but he cannot achieve it without the assistance of other
men, without fraternity.”
Many of our decisions recognize human dignity as being an essential part of the fundamental rights chapter. For
example, see Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526 at paragraph 21, Francis Coralie
Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi & Ors., (1981) 1 SCC 608 at paragraphs 6, 7 and 8, Bandhua
Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, (1984) 3 SCC 161 at paragraph 10, Maharashtra University of Health Sciences v.
Satchikitsa Prasarak Mandal, (2010) 3 SCC 786 at paragraph 37, Shabnam v. Union of India, (2015) 6 SCC 702 at
paragraphs 12.4 and 14 and Jeeja Ghosh v. Union of India, (2016) 7 SCC 761 at paragraph 37.
105
these constitutional values in full, and is to be read in
consonance with these values and with the international
covenants that we have referred to. In the ultimate analysis,
the fundamental right of privacy, which has so many developing
facets, can only be developed on a case to case basis.
Depending upon the particular facet that is relied upon, either
Article 21 by itself or in conjunction with other fundamental
rights would get attracted.
86. But this is not to say that such a right is absolute. This
right is subject to reasonable regulations made by the State to
protect legitimate State interests or public interest. However,
when it comes to restrictions on this right, the drill of various
Articles to which the right relates must be scrupulously
followed. For example, if the restraint on privacy is over
fundamental personal choices that an individual is to make,
State action can be restrained under Article 21 read with Article
14 if it is arbitrary and unreasonable; and under Article 21 read
with Article 19(1) (a) only if it relates to the subjects mentioned
in Article 19(2) and the tests laid down by this Court for such
legislation or subordinate legislation to pass muster under the
106
said Article. Each of the tests evolved by this Court, qua
legislation or executive action, under Article 21 read with Article
14; or Article 21 read with Article 19(1)(a) in the aforesaid
examples must be met in order that State action pass muster.
In the ultimate analysis, the balancing act that is to be carried
out between individual, societal and State interests must be left
to the training and expertise of the judicial mind.
87. It is important to advert to one other interesting argument
made on the side of the petitioner. According to the petitioners,
even in British India, the right to privacy was always legislatively
recognized. We were referred to the Indian Telegraph Act of
1885, vintage and in particular Section 5 thereof which reads as
under:-
“5. (1) On the occurrence of any public
emergency, or in the interest of the public safety,
the Governor General in Council or a Local
Government, or any officer specially authorized in
this behalf by the Governor General in Council,
may–
(a) take temporary possession of any telegraph
established, maintained or worked by any
person licensed under this Act; or
(b) order that any message or class of messages
to or from any person or class of persons, or
107
relating to any particular subject, brought for
transmission by or transmitted or received by
any telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall
be intercepted or detained, or shall be
disclosed to the Government or an officer
thereof mentioned in the order.
(2) If any doubt arises as to the existence of a
public emergency, or whether any act done under
sub-section (1) was in the interest of the public
safety, a certificate signed by a Secretary to the
Government of India or to the Local Government
shall be conclusive proof on the point.”
We were also referred to Section 26 of the Indian Post
Office Act, 1898 for the same purpose.
“26. Power to intercept postal articles for public
good.— (1) On the occurrence of any public
emergency, or in the interest of the public safety or
tranquility, the Central Government, or a State
Government, or any officer specially authorized in
this behalf by the Central or the State Government
may, by order in writing, direct that any postal article
or class or description of postal articles in course of
transmission by post shall be intercepted or
detained, or shall be disposed of in such manner as
the authority issuing the order may direct.
(2) If any doubt arises as to the existence of a public
emergency, or as to whether any act done under
sub-section (1) was in the interest of the public
safety or tranquility, a certificate of the Central
Government or, as the case may be, of the State
Government shall be conclusive proof on the point.”
108
88. Coming to more recent times, the Right to Information
Act, 2005 in Section 8(1)(j) states as follows:-
“8. Exemption from disclosure of information.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act,
there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,—
(a) to (i) xxx xxx xxx
(j) information which relates to personal
information the disclosure of which has not
relationship to any public activity or interest, or
which would cause unwarranted invasion of the
privacy of the individual unless the Central Public
Information Officer or the State Public Information
Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may
be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies
the disclosure of such information:
Provided that the information, which cannot be
denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall
not be denied to any person.”
It will be noticed that in this statutory provision, the
expression “privacy of the individual” is specifically mentioned.
In an illuminating judgment, reported as Thalappalam Service
Co-operative Bank Limited & Ors., v. State of Kerala & Ors.,
(2013) 16 SCC 82, this Court dealt with the right to information
as a facet of the freedom of speech guaranteed to every
individual. In certain instructive passages, this Court held:
109
“57. The right to privacy is also not expressly
guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
However, the Privacy Bill, 2011 to provide for the
right to privacy to citizens of India and to regulate
the collection, maintenance and dissemination of
their personal information and for penalization for
violation of such rights and matters connected
therewith, is pending. In several judgments
including Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. (AIR 1963
SC 1295 : (1963) 2 Cri LJ 329), R. Rajagopal v.
State of T.N. (1994) 6 SCC 632, People’s Union for
Civil Liberties v. Union of India (1997) 1 SCC 301
and State of Maharashtra v. Bharat Shanti Lal Shah
(2008) 13 SCC 5, this Court has recognized the
right to privacy as a fundamental right emanating
from Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
58. The right to privacy is also recognized as a
basic human right under Article 12 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights Act, 1948, which
states as follows:
“12. No one shall be subjected to
arbitrary interference with his privacy,
family, home or correspondence, not to
attack upon his honour and reputation.
Everyone has the right to the protection
of the law against such interference or
attacks.”
59. Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights Act, 1966, to which India is a
party also protects that right and states as follows:
“17. (1) No one shall be subjected to
arbitrary or unlawful interference with his
privacy, family, home and
correspondence nor to unlawful attacks
on his honour and reputation.”
110
60. This Court in R. Rajagopal, (1994) 6 SCC 632
held as follows: (SCC pp. 649-50, para 26)
“(1)… The right to privacy is implicit in
the right to life and liberty guaranteed to
the citizens of this country by Article
21. It is a ‘right to be let alone’. A citizen
has a right to safeguard the privacy of
his own, his family, marriage,
procreation, motherhood, child bearing
and education among other matters.”
62. The public authority also is not legally obliged to
give or provide information even if it is held, or
under its control, if that information falls under
clause (j) of sub-section (1) of Section 8. Section
8(1)(j) is of considerable importance so far as this
case is concerned, hence given below, for ready
reference:-
“8. Exemption from disclosure of
information – (1) Notwithstanding
anything contained in this Act, there
shall be no obligation to give any citizen

(a) to (i) xxx xxx xxx
(j) information which relates to personal
information the disclosure of which has
no relationship to any public activity or
interest, or which would cause
unwarranted invasion of the privacy of
the individual unless the Central Public
Information Officer or the State Public
Information Officer or the appellate
authority, as the case may be, is
satisfied that the larger public interest
111
justifies the disclosure of such
information:
Provided that the information which
cannot be denied to Parliament or a
State Legislature shall not be denied to
any person.”
63. Section 8 begins with a non obstante clause,
which gives that section an overriding effect, in case
of conflict, over the other provisions of the Act. Even
if, there is any indication to the contrary, still there is
no obligation on the public authority to give
information to any citizen of what has been
mentioned in clauses (a) to (j). The public authority,
as already indicated, cannot access all the
information from a private individual, but only those
information which he is legally obliged to pass on to
a public authority by law, and also only those
information to which the public authority can have
access in accordance with law. Even those
information, if personal in nature, can be made
available only subject to the limitations provided
in Section 8(j) of the RTI Act. Right to be left alone,
as propounded in Olmstead v. United States [72 L
Ed 944 : 277 US 438 (1928)], is the most
comprehensive of the rights and most valued by
civilized man.
64. Recognizing the fact that the right to privacy is a
sacrosanct facet of Article 21 of the Constitution, the
legislation has put a lot of safeguards to protect the
rights under Section 8(j), as already indicated. If the
information sought for is personal and has no
relationship with any public activity or interest or it
will not subserve larger public interest, the public
authority or the officer concerned is not legally
obliged to provide those information. Reference
may be made to a recent judgment of this Court
in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central
Information Commissioner (2013) 1 SCC 212,
112
wherein this Court held that since there is no bona
fide public interest in seeking information, the
disclosure of said information would cause
unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual
under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act. Further, if the
authority finds that information sought for can be
made available in the larger public interest, then the
officer should record his reasons in writing before
providing the information, because the person from
whom information is sought for, has also a right to
privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the
Constitution.”
(at page 112-114)
89. There can be no doubt that counsel for the petitioners are
right in their submission that the legislature has also recognized
the fundamental right of privacy and, therefore, it is too late in
the day to go back on this. Much water has indeed flowed
under the bridge since the decisions in M.P. Sharma (supra)
and Kharak Singh (supra).
The Inalienable Nature of the Right to Privacy
90. Learned counsel for the petitioners also referred to
another important aspect of the right of privacy. According to
learned counsel for the petitioner this right is a natural law right
which is inalienable. Indeed, the reference order itself, in
paragraph 12, refers to this aspect of the fundamental right
contained. It was, therefore, argued before us that given the
113
international conventions referred to hereinabove and the fact
that this right inheres in every individual by virtue of his being a
human being, such right is not conferred by the Constitution but
is only recognized and given the status of being fundamental.
There is no doubt that the petitioners are correct in this
submission. However, one important road block in the way
needs to be got over.
91. In Additional District Magistrate, Jabalpur v. S.S.
Shukla, (1976) 2 SCC 521, a Constitution Bench of this Court
arrived at the conclusion (by majority) that Article 21 is the sole
repository of all rights to life and personal liberty, and, when
suspended, takes away those rights altogether.
A remarkable dissent was that of Khanna,J.12
12 Khanna, J. was in line to be Chief Justice of India but was superseded because of this dissenting judgment. Nani
Palkhivala in an article written on this great Judge’s supersession ended with a poignant sentence, “To the stature
of such a man, the Chief Justiceship of India can add nothing.” Seervai, in his monumental treatise “Constitutional
Law of India” had to this to say:
“53. If in this Appendix the dissenting judgment of Khanna J. has not been considered in detail, it
is not for lack of admiration for the judgment, or the courage which he showed in delivering it
regardless of the cost and consequences to himself. It cost him the Chief Justiceship of India, but
it gained for him universal esteem not only for his courage but also for his inflexible judicial
independence. If his judgment is not considered in detail it is because under the theory of
precedents which we have adopted, a dissenting judgment, however valuable, does not lay down
the law and the object of a critical examination of the majority judgments in this Appendix was to
show that those judgments are untenable in law, productive of grave public mischief and ought
to be overruled at the earliest opportunity. The conclusion which Justice Khanna has reached on
the effect of the suspension of Article 21 is correct. His reminder that the rule of law did not
merely mean giving effect to an enacted law was timely, and was reinforced by his reference to
the mass murders of millions of Jews in Nazi concentration camps under an enacted law.
114
The learned Judge held:-
“525. The effect of the suspension of the right to
move any court for the enforcement of the right
conferred by Article 21, in my opinion, is that when
a petition is filed in a court, the court would have to
proceed upon the basis that no reliance can be
placed upon that article for obtaining relief from the
court during the period of emergency. Question then
arises as to whether the rule that no one shall be
deprived of his life or personal liberty without the
authority of law still survives during the period of
emergency despite the Presidential Order
suspending the right to move any court for the
enforcement of the right contained in Article 21. The
answer to this question is linked with the answer to
the question as to whether Article 21 is the sole
repository of the right to life and personal liberty.
After giving the matter my earnest consideration, I
am of the opinion that Article 21 cannot be
considered to be the sole repository of the right to
life and personal liberty. The right to life and
personal liberty is the most precious right of human
beings in civilised societies governed by the rule of
law. Many modern Constitutions incorporate certain
fundamental rights, including the one relating to
personal freedom. According to Blackstone, the
absolute rights of Englishmen were the rights of
personal security, personal liberty and private
property. The American Declaration of
Independence (1776) states that all men are
created equal, and among their inalienable rights
are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The
Second Amendment to the US Constitution refers
inter alia to security of person, while the Fifth
Amendment prohibits inter alia deprivation of life
However, the legal analysis in this Chapter confirms his conclusion though on different grounds
from those which he has given.” (at Appendix pg. 2229).
115
and liberty without due process, of law. The different
Declarations of Human Rights and fundamental
freedoms have all laid stress upon the sanctity of
life and liberty. They have also given expression in
varying words to the principle that no one shall be
derived of his life or liberty without the authority of
law. The International Commission of Jurists, which
is affiliated to UNESCO, has been attempting with,
considerable success to give material content to
“the rule of law”, an expression used in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of its
most notable achievements was the Declaration of
Delhi, 1959. This resulted from a Congress held in
New Delhi attended by jurists from more than 50
countries, and was based on a questionnaire
circulated to 75,000 lawyers. “Respect for the
supreme value of human personality” was stated to
be the basis of all law (see page 21 of the
Constitutional and Administrative Law by O. Hood
Phillips, 3rd Ed.).
531. I am unable to subscribe to the view that when
right to enforce the right under Article 21 is
suspended, the result would be that there would be
no remedy against deprivation of a person’s life or
liberty by the State even though such deprivation is
without the authority of law or even in flagrant
violation of the provisions of law. The right not to be
deprived of one’s life or liberty without the authority
of law was not the creation of the Constitution. Such
right existed before the Constitution came into force.
The fact that the framers of the Constitution made
an aspect of such right a part of the fundamental
rights did not have the effect of exterminating the
independent identity of such right and of making
Article 21 to be the sole repository of that right. Its
real effect was to ensure that a law under which a
person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty
should prescribe a procedure for such deprivation
116
or, according to the dictum laid down by Mukherjea,
J. in Gopalan’s case, such law should be a valid law
not violative of fundamental rights guaranteed by
Part III of the Constitution. Recognition as
fundamental right of one aspect of the preconstitutional
right cannot have the effect of making
things less favourable so far as the sanctity of life
and personal liberty is concerned compared to the
position if an aspect of such right had not been
recognised as fundamental right because of the
vulnerability of fundamental rights accruing from
Article 359. I am also unable to agree that in view of
the Presidential Order in the matter of sanctity of life
and liberty, things would be worse off compared to
the state of law as it existed before the coming into
force of the Constitution.”
(at pages 747 and 751)
92. According to us this is a correct enunciation of the law for
the following reasons:
(i) It is clear that the international covenants and
declarations to which India was a party, namely, the 1948
Declaration and the 1966 Covenant both spoke of the
right to life and liberty as being “inalienable”. Given the
fact that this has to be read as being part of Article 21 by
virtue of the judgments referred to supra, it is clear that
Article 21 would, therefore, not be the sole repository of
these human rights but only reflect the fact that they were
117
“inalienable”; that they inhere in every human being by
virtue of the person being a human being;
(ii) Secondly, developments after this judgment have also
made it clear that the majority judgments are no longer
good law and that Khanna, J.’s dissent is the correct
version of the law. Section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of
Human Rights Act, 1993 recognises that the right to life,
liberty, equality and dignity referable to international
covenants and enforceable by Courts in India are “human
rights”. And international covenants expressly state that
these rights are ‘inalienable’ as they inhere in persons
because they are human beings. In I.R. Coelho (supra),
this Court noticed in paragraph 29 that, “The decision in
ADM Jabalpur, (1976) 2 SCC 521, about the restrictive
reading of the right to life and liberty stood impliedly
overruled by various subsequent decisions.”, and
expressly held that these rights are natural rights that
inhere in human beings thus:-
“61. The approach in the interpretation of
fundamental rights has been evidenced in a
118
recent case M. Nagaraj v. Union of India,
(2006) 8 SCC 212, in which the Court noted:
“20. This principle of interpretation is
particularly apposite to the interpretation of
fundamental rights. It is a fallacy to regard
fundamental rights as a gift from the State to
its citizens. Individuals possess basic human
rights independently of any constitution by
reason of the basic fact that they are
members of the human race. These
fundamental rights are important as they
possess intrinsic value. Part III of the
Constitution does not confer fundamental
rights. It confirms their existence and gives
them protection. Its purpose is to withdraw
certain subjects from the area of political
controversy to place them beyond the reach of
majorities and officials and to establish them
as legal principles to be applied by the courts.
Every right has a content. Every foundational
value is put in Part III as a fundamental right
as it has intrinsic value. The converse does
not apply. A right becomes a fundamental
right because it has foundational value. Apart
from the principles, one has also to see the
structure of the article in which the
fundamental value is incorporated.
Fundamental right is a limitation on the power
of the State. A Constitution, and in particular
that of it which protects and which entrenches
fundamental rights and freedoms to which all
persons in the State are to be entitled is to be
given a generous and purposive construction.
In Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India [AIR
1962 SC 305 : (1962) 3 SCR 842], this Court
has held that while considering the nature and
content of fundamental rights, the Court must
not be too astute to interpret the language in a
literal sense so as to whittle them down. The
Court must interpret the Constitution in a
119
manner which would enable the citizens to
enjoy the rights guaranteed by it in the fullest
measure. An instance of literal and narrow
interpretation of a vital fundamental right in the
Indian Constitution is the early decision of the
Supreme Court in A.K. Gopalan v. State of
Madras [AIR 1950 SC 27 : 1950 SCR 88 :
1950 Cri LJ 1383]. Article 21 of the
Constitution provides that no person shall be
deprived of his life and personal liberty except
according to procedure established by law.
The Supreme Court by a majority held that
‘procedure established by law’ means any
procedure established by law made by the
Parliament or the legislatures of the State.
The Supreme Court refused to infuse the
procedure with principles of natural justice. It
concentrated solely upon the existence of
enacted law. After three decades, the
Supreme Court overruled its previous decision
in A.K. Gopalan [A.K. Gopalan v. State of
Madras (AIR 1950 SC 27 : 1950 SCR 88 :
1950 Cri LJ 1383)] and held in its landmark
judgment in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,
(1978) 1 SCC 248, that the procedure
contemplated by Article 21 must answer the
test of reasonableness. The Court further held
that the procedure should also be in
conformity with the principles of natural
justice. This example is given to demonstrate
an instance of expansive interpretation of a
fundamental right. The expression ‘life’ in
Article 21 does not connote merely physical or
animal existence. The right to life includes
right to live with human dignity. This Court has
in numerous cases deduced fundamental
features which are not specifically mentioned
in Part III on the principle that certain
unarticulated rights are implicit in the
enumerated guarantees.”
120
(at pages 85-86)
(iii) Seervai in a trenchant criticism of the majority judgment
states as follows:
“30. The result of our discussion so far may
be stated thus: Article 21 does not confer a
right to life or personal liberty: Article 21
assumes or recognizes the fact that those
rights exist and affords protection against the
deprivation of those rights to the extent there
provided. The expression “procedure
established by law” does not mean merely a
procedural law but must also include
substantive laws. The word “law” must mean
a valid law, that is, a law within the legislative
competence of the legislature enacting it,
which law does not violate the limitations
imposed on legislative power by fundamental
rights. “Personal liberty” means the liberty of
the person from external restraint or coercion.
Thus Article 21 protects life and personal
liberty by putting restrictions on legislative
power, which under Articles 245 and 246 is
subject to the provisions of “this Constitution”,
and therefore subject to fundamental rights.
The precise nature of this protection is difficult
to state, first because among other things,
such protection is dependent on reading
Article 21 along with other Articles conferring
fundamental rights, such as Articles 14, 20
and 22(1) and (2); and, secondly, because
fundamental rights from their very nature refer
to ordinary laws which deal with the subject
matter of those rights.
31. The right to life and personal liberty
which inheres in the body of a living person is
recognized and protected not merely by
121
Article 21 but by the civil and criminal laws of
India, and it is unfortunate that in the Habeas
Corpus Case this aspect of the matter did not
receive the attention which it deserved.
Neither the Constitution nor any law confers
the right to life. That right arises from the
existence of a living human body. The most
famous remedy for securing personal liberty,
the writ of habeas corpus, requires the
production before the court of the body of the
person alleged to be illegally detained. The
Constitution gives protection against the
deprivation of life and personal liberty; so do
the civil and criminal laws in force in India…”
(See, Seervai, Constitutional Law of India (4th
Edition) Appendix pg. 2219).
We are of the view that the aforesaid statement made by
the learned author reflects the correct position in constitutional
law. We, therefore, expressly overrule the majority judgments in
ADM Jabalpur (supra).
93. Before parting with this subject, we may only indicate that
the majority opinion was done away with by the Constitution’s
44th Amendment two years after the judgment was delivered.
By that Amendment, Article 359 was amended to state that
where a proclamation of emergency is in operation, the
President may by order declare that the right to move any Court
for the enforcement of rights conferred by Part III of the
122
Constitution may remain suspended for the period during which
such proclamation is in force, excepting Articles 20 and 21. On
this score also, it is clear that the right of privacy is an
inalienable human right which inheres in every person by virtue
of the fact that he or she is a human being.
Conclusion
94. This reference is answered by stating that the inalienable
fundamental right to privacy resides in Article 21 and other
fundamental freedoms contained in Part III of the Constitution
of India. M.P. Sharma (supra) and the majority in Kharak
Singh (supra), to the extent that they indicate to the contrary,
stand overruled. The later judgments of this Court recognizing
privacy as a fundamental right do not need to be revisited.
These cases are, therefore, sent back for adjudication on merits
to the original Bench of 3 honourable Judges of this Court in
light of the judgment just delivered by us.
…………………………......J.
(R.F. Nariman)
New Delhi;
August 24, 2017.
1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.)
& Anr. …….Petitioner (s)
VERSUS
Union of India & Ors. …….Respondent(s)
WITH
T.C.(C) No. 151 of 2013
T.C.(C) No. 152 of 2013
W.P.(C) No. 833 of 2013
W.P.(C) No. 829 of 2013
W.P.(C) No. 932 of 2013
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 144 of 2014
IN
W.P. (C) No. 494 of 2012
T.P. (C) No. 313 of 2014
T.P. (C) No. 312 of 2014
2
S.L.P. (Crl.) No. 2524 of 2014
W.P. (C) No. 37 of 2015
W.P. (C) No. 220 of 2015
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 674 of 2015
IN
W.P. (C) No. 829 of 2013
T.P.(C) No. 921 of 2015
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 470 of 2015
IN
W.P. (C) No. 494 of 2012
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 444 of 2016
IN
W.P. (C) No. 494 of 2012
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 608 of 2016
IN
W.P. (C) No. 494 of 2012
W.P. (C) No. 797 of 2016
Cont. Pet. (C) No. 844 of 2017
IN
W.P. (C) No. 494 of 2012
W.P. (C) No. 342 of 2017
AND
3
W.P. (C) No. 372 of 2017
J U D G M E N T
Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.
1) I have had the benefit of reading the scholarly
opinions of my esteemed learned brothers, Justice J.
Chelameswar, Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice Rohinton
Fali Nariman and Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
Having read them carefully, I have nothing more
useful to add to the reasoning and the conclusion
arrived at by my esteemed brothers in their respective
opinions.
2) However, keeping in view the importance of the
questions referred to this Bench, I wish to add only
few words of concurrence of my own.
4
3) In substance, two questions were referred to this
Nine Judge Bench, first, whether the law laid down in
the case of M.P.Sharma and others vs. Satish
Chandra, District Magistrate Delhi & Ors., AIR 1954
SC 300 and Kharak Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh
& Ors. AIR 1963 SC 1295 insofar as it relates to the
"right to privacy of an individual” is correct and
second, whether "right to privacy" is a fundamental
right under Part III of the Constitution of India?
4) Before I examine these two questions, it is
apposite to take note of the Preamble to the
Constitution, which, in my view, has bearing on the
questions referred.
5) The Preamble to the Constitution reads as
under:-
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having
solemnly resolved to constitute India into a
SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR
5
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all
its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith
and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
And to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the
individual and the unity and integrity of the
Nation;”
6) Perusal of the words in the Preamble would go to
show that every word used therein was cautiously
chosen by the founding fathers and then these words
were arranged and accordingly placed in a proper
order. Every word incorporated in the Preamble has
significance and proper meaning.
7) The most important place of pride was given to
the "People of India" by using the expression, WE, THE
PEOPLE OF INDIA, in the beginning of the Preamble.
The Constitution was accordingly adopted, enacted
and then given to ourselves.
6
8) The keynote of the Preamble was to lay emphasis
on two positive aspects – one, "the Unity of the Nation"
and the second "Dignity of the individual". The
expression "Dignity" carried with it moral and spiritual
imports. It also implied an obligation on the part of
the Union to respect the personality of every citizen
and create the conditions in which every citizen would
be left free to find himself/herself and attain selffulfillment.
9) The incorporation of expression "Dignity of the
individual" in the Preamble was aimed essentially to
show explicit repudiation of what people of this
Country had inherited from the past. Dignity of the
individual was, therefore, always considered the prime
constituent of the fraternity, which assures the dignity
to every individual. Both expressions are
interdependent and intertwined.
7
10) In my view, unity and integrity of the Nation
cannot survive unless the dignity of every individual
citizen is guaranteed. It is inconceivable to think of
unity and integration without the assurance to an
individual to preserve his dignity. In other words,
regard and respect by every individual for the dignity
of the other one brings the unity and integrity of the
Nation.
11) The expressions "liberty“, "equality" and
"fraternity" incorporated in the Preamble are not
separate entities. They have to be read in juxtaposition
while dealing with the rights of the citizens. They, in
fact, form a union. If these expressions are divorced
from each other, it will defeat the very purpose of
democracy.
12) In other words, liberty cannot be divorced from
equality so also equality cannot be divorced from
8
liberty and nor can liberty and equality be divorced
from fraternity. The meaning assigned to these
expressions has to be given due weightage while
interpreting Articles of Part III of the Constitution.
13) It is, therefore, the duty of the Courts and
especially this Court as sentinel on the qui vive to
strike a balance between the changing needs of the
Society and the protection of the rights of the citizens
as and when the issue relating to the infringement of
the rights of the citizen comes up for consideration.
Such a balance can be achieved only through securing
and protecting liberty, equality and fraternity with
social and political justice to all the citizens under rule
of law (see-S.S. Bola & Ors. vs. B.D. Sardana & Ors.
1997 (8) SCC 522).
14) Our Constitution has recognized certain existing
cherished rights of an individual. These rights are
9
incorporated in different Articles of Part III of the
Constitution under the heading-Fundamental Rights.
In so doing, some rights were incorporated and those,
which were not incorporated, were read in Part III by
process of judicial interpretation depending upon the
nature of right asserted by the citizens on case-to-case
basis.
15) It was not possible for the framers of the
Constitution to incorporate each and every right be
that a natural or common law right of an individual in
Part III of the Constitution. Indeed, as we can see
whenever occasion arose in the last 50 years to decide
as to whether any particular right alleged by the
citizen is a fundamental right or not, this Court with
the process of judicial interpretation recognized with
remarkable clarity several existing natural and
common law rights of an individual as fundamental
10
rights falling in Part III though not defined in the
Constitution. It was done keeping in view the fact that
the Constitution is a sacred living document and,
hence, susceptible to appropriate interpretation of its
provisions based on changing needs of "We, the
People” and other well defined parameters.
16) Article 21 is perhaps the smallest Article in terms
of words (18) in the Constitution. It is the heart of the
Constitution as was said by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. It
reads as under: -
“No person shall be deprived of his life or
personal liberty except according to
procedure established by law.”
17) This Article is in Part III of the Constitution and
deals with Fundamental rights of the citizens. It has
been the subject matter of judicial interpretation by
this Court along with other Articles of Part III in
several landmark cases beginning from A.K.Gopalan
11
vs. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27 up to Mohd Arif
@ Ashfaq vs. Registrar, Supreme Court of India
(2014) 9 SCC 737. In between this period, several
landmark judgments were rendered by this Court.
18) Part III of the Constitution and the true meaning
of the expression "personal liberty" in Article 21 and
what it encompasses was being debated all along in
these cases. The great Judges of this Court with their
vast knowledge, matured thoughts, learning and with
their inimitable style of writing coupled with the able
assistance of great lawyers gradually went on to
expand the meaning of the golden words (personal
liberty) with remarkable clarity and precision.
19) The learned Judges endeavored and expanded
the width of the fundamental rights and preserved the
freedom of the citizens. In the process of the judicial
12
evolution, the law laid down in some earlier cases was
either overruled or their correctness doubted.
20) It is a settled rule of interpretation as held in the
case of Rustom Cavasjee Cooper vs. Union of India,
(1970) 1 SCC 248 that the Court should always make
attempt to expand the reach and ambit of the
fundamental rights rather than to attenuate their
meaning and the content by process of judicial
construction. Similarly, it is also a settled principle of
law laid down in His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati
Sripadagalvaru vs. State of Kerala & Anr., (1973) 4
SCC 225 that the Preamble is a part of the
Constitution and, therefore, while interpreting any
provision of the Constitution or examining any
constitutional issue or while determining the width or
reach of any provision or when any ambiguity or
obscurity is noticed in any provision, which needs to
13
be clarified, or when the language admits of meaning
more than one, the Preamble to the Constitution may
be relied on as a remedy for mischief or/and to find
out the true meaning of the relevant provision as the
case may be.
21) In my considered opinion, the two questions
referred herein along with few incidental questions
arising therefrom need to be examined carefully in the
light of law laid down by this Court in several decided
cases. Indeed, the answer to the questions can be
found in the law laid down in the decided cases of this
Court alone and one may not require taking the help of
the law laid down by the American Courts.
22) It is true that while interpreting our laws, the
English decisions do guide us in reaching to a
particular conclusion arising for consideration. The
law reports also bear the testimony that this Court
14
especially in its formative years has taken the help of
English cases for interpreting the provisions of our
Constitution and other laws.
23) However, in the last seven decades, this Court
has interpreted our Constitution keeping in view the
socio, economic and political conditions of the Indian
Society, felt need of, We, the People of this Country
and the Country in general in comparison to the
conditions prevailing in other Countries.
24) Indeed, it may not be out of place to state that
this Court while interpreting the provisions of Indian
Companies Act, which is modeled on English
Company’s Act has cautioned that the Indian Courts
will have to adjust and adapt, limit or extend, the
principles derived from English decisions, entitled as
they are to great respect, suiting the conditions to the
Indian society as a whole. (See - Hind Overseas (P)
15
Ltd. vs. Raghunath Prasad Jhunjhunwala & Anr.
(1976) 3 SCC 259). The questions referred need
examination in the light of these principles.
25) In my considered opinion, “right to privacy of any
individual” is essentially a natural right, which inheres
in every human being by birth. Such right remains
with the human being till he/she breathes last. It is
indeed inseparable and inalienable from human being.
In other words, it is born with the human being and
extinguish with human being.
26) One cannot conceive an individual enjoying
meaningful life with dignity without such right. Indeed,
it is one of those cherished rights, which every civilized
society governed by rule of law always recognizes in
every human being and is under obligation to
recognize such rights in order to maintain and
preserve the dignity of an individual regardless of
16
gender, race, religion, caste and creed. It is, of course,
subject to imposing certain reasonable restrictions
keeping in view the social, moral and compelling
public interest, which the State is entitled to impose
by law.
27) “Right to privacy” is not defined in law except in
the dictionaries. The Courts, however, by process of
judicial interpretation, has assigned meaning to this
right in the context of specific issues involved on caseto-case
basis.
28) The most popular meaning of “right to privacy”
is - "the right to be let alone”. In Gobind vs. State of
Madhya Pradesh & Anr., (1975) 2 SCC 148,
K.K.Mathew, J. noticed multiple facets of this right
(Para 21-25) and then gave a rule of caution while
examining the contours of such right on case-to-case
basis.
17
29) In my considered view, the answer to the
questions can be found in the law laid down by this
Court in the cases beginning from Rustom Cavasjee
Cooper (supra) followed by Maneka Gandhi vs. Union
of India & Anr. (1978) 1 SCC 248, People’s Union for
Civil Liberties (PUCL) vs. Union of India & Anr.,
(1997) 1 SCC 301, Gobind’s case (supra), Mr. "X" vs.
Hospital ‘Z’ (1998) 8 SCC 296, District Registrar &
Collector, Hyderabad & Anr. vs. Canara Bank &
Ors., (2005) 1 SCC 496 and lastly in Thalappalam
Service Coop. Bank Ltd. & Ors. vs. State of Kerala
& Ors., (2013) 16 SCC 82.
30) It is in these cases and especially the two –
namely, Gobind(supra) and District Registrar(supra),
their Lordships very succinctly examined in great
detail the issue in relation to "right to privacy" in the
18
light of Indian and American case law and various
international conventions.
31) In Gobind’ case, the learned Judge, K.K.Mathew
J. speaking for the Bench held and indeed rightly in
Para 28 as under:
“28. The right to privacy in any event will
necessarily have to go through a process of
case-by-case development. Therefore, even
assuming that the right to personal liberty,
the right to move freely throughout the
territory of India and the freedom of speech
create an independent right of privacy as an
emanation from them which one can
characterize as a fundamental right, we do
not think that the right is absolute.”
32) Similarly in the case of District Registrar(supra),
the learned Chief Justice R.C.Lahoti (as His Lordship
then was) speaking for the Bench with his distinctive
style of writing concluded in Para 39 as under :
“39. We have referred in detail to the reasons
given by Mathew, J. in Gobind to show that,
the right to privacy has been implied in
Articles 19(1)(a) and (d) and Article 21; that,
the right is not absolute and that any State
19
intrusion can be a reasonable restriction only
if it has reasonable basis or reasonable
materials to support it.”
33) In all the aforementioned cases, the question of
“right to privacy” was examined in the context of
specific grievances made by the citizens wherein their
Lordships, inter alia, ruled that firstly, “right to
privacy” has multiple facets and though such right can
be classified as a part of fundamental right emanating
from Article 19(1)(a) and (d) and Article 21, yet it is not
absolute and secondly, it is always subject to certain
reasonable restrictions on the basis of compelling
social, moral and public interest and lastly, any such
right when asserted by the citizen in the Court of law
then it has to go through a process of case-to-case
development.
34) I, therefore, do not find any difficulty in tracing
the "right to privacy“ emanating from the two
20
expressions of the Preamble namely, "liberty of
thought, expression, belief, faith and worship" and
"Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual“ and
also emanating from Article 19 (1)(a) which gives to
every citizen "a freedom of speech and expression"
and further emanating from Article 19(1)(d) which
gives to every citizen "a right to move freely
throughout the territory of India" and lastly,
emanating from the expression “personal liberty"
under Article 21. Indeed, the right to privacy is inbuilt
in these expressions and flows from each of them and
in juxtaposition.
35) In view of foregoing discussion, my answer to
question No. 2 is that “right to privacy” is a part of
fundamental right of a citizen guaranteed under Part
III of the Constitution. However, it is not an absolute
right but is subject to certain reasonable restrictions,
21
which the State is entitled to impose on the basis of
social, moral and compelling public interest in
accordance with law.
36) Similarly, I also hold that the “right to privacy”
has multiple facets, and, therefore, the same has to go
through a process of case-to-case development as and
when any citizen raises his grievance complaining of
infringement of his alleged right in accordance with
law.
37) My esteemed learned brothers, Justice J.
Chelameswar, Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice Rohinton
Fali Nariman and Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud have
extensively dealt with question No. 1 in the context of
Indian and American Case law on the subject
succinctly. They have also dealt with in detail the
various submissions of the learned senior counsel
appearing for all the parties.
22
38) I entirely agree with their reasoning and the
conclusion on question No. 1 and hence do not wish to
add anything to what they have said in their respective
scholarly opinions.
39) Some learned senior counsel appearing for the
petitioners, however, argued that the law laid down by
this Court in some earlier decided cases though not
referred for consideration be also overruled while
answering the questions referred to this Bench
whereas some senior counsel also made attempts to
attack the legality and correctness of Aadhar Scheme
in their submissions.
40) These submissions, in my view, cannot be
entertained in this case. It is for the reason that firstly,
this Bench is constituted to answer only specific
questions; secondly, the submissions pressed in
service are not referred to this Bench and lastly, it is a
23
settled principle of law that the reference Court cannot
travel beyond the reference made and is confined to
answer only those questions that are referred. (See -
Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar & Ors. vs. State of
Maharashtra & Anr. (1966) 3 SCR 744 at page 753).
41) Suffice it to say that as and when any of these
questions arise in any case, the appropriate Bench will
examine such questions on its merits in accordance
with law.
42) Before I part, I wish to place on record that it was
pleasure hearing the erudite arguments addressed by
all the learned counsel. Every counsel argued with
brevity, lucidity and with remarkable clarity. The hard
work done by each counsel was phenomenal and
deserves to be complimented. Needless to say, but for
their able assistance both in terms of oral argument as
well as written briefs (containing thorough
24
submissions, variety of case law and the literature on
the subject), it was well nigh impossible to express the
views.
………..................................J.
[ABHAY MANOHAR SAPRE]
New Delhi,
August 24, 2017.

1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 494 OF 2012
JUSTICE K.S. PUTTASWAMY (RETD.),
AND ANOTHER …PETITIONERS
VS.
UNION OF INDIA AND OTHERS …RESPONDENTS
WITH
T.C. (CIVIL) NO. 151 OF 2013
T.C. (CIVIL) NO. 152 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL)NO. 833 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL)NO. 829 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL)NO. 932 OF 2013
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.144 OF 2014 IN W.P. (C) NO.494/2012
T.P. (CIVIL) NO. 313 OF 2014
T.P. (CIVIL) NO.312 OF 2014
S.L.P. (CRL.) NO.2524 OF 2014
W.P.(C) NO.37 OF 2015
2
W.P.(CIVIL) NO. 220 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO.674 OF 2015 IN W.P. (C) NO.829 OF 2013
T.P. (CIVIL) NO. 921/2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO.470 OF 2015 IN W.P.(C) NO.494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO.444 OF 2016 IN W.P. (C) NO.494 OF 2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO.608 OF 2016 IN W.P. (C) NO.494 OF 2012
W.P.(C) NO. 797 OF 2016
CONTEMPT PETITION (C) NO.844 OF 2017 IN W.P. (C) NO.494 OF 2012
AND
W.P. (CIVIL) NO. 000372 OF 2017
J U D G M E N T
SANJAY KISHAN KAUL, J
1. I have had the benefit of reading the exhaustive and erudite
opinions of Rohinton F. Nariman, J, and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J. The
conclusion is the same, answering the reference that privacy is not just a
common law right, but a fundamental right falling in Part III of the
3
Constitution of India. I agree with this conclusion as privacy is a primal,
natural right which is inherent to an individual. However, I am tempted
to set out my perspective on the issue of privacy as a right, which to my
mind, is an important core of any individual existence.
2. A human being, from an individual existence, evolved into a
social animal. Society thus envisaged a collective living beyond the
individual as a unit to what came to be known as the family. This, in
turn, imposed duties and obligations towards the society. The right to
“do as you please” became circumscribed by norms commonly
acceptable to the larger social group. In time, the acceptable norms
evolved into formal legal principles.
3. “The right to be”, though not extinguished for an individual, as
the society evolved, became hedged in by the complexity of the norms.
There has been a growing concern of the impact of technology which
breaches this “right to be”, or privacy – by whatever name we may call
it.
4. The importance of privacy may vary from person to person
dependent on his/her approach to society and his concern for being left
4
alone or not. That some people do not attach importance to their
privacy cannot be the basis for denying recognition to the right to
privacy as a basic human right.
5. It is not India alone, but the world that recognises the right of
privacy as a basic human right. The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights to which India is a signatory, recognises privacy as an
international human right.
6. The importance of this right to privacy cannot be diluted and the
significance of this is that the legal conundrum was debated and is to be
settled in the present reference by a nine-Judges Constitution Bench.
7. This reference has arisen from the challenge to what is called the
‘Aadhar Card Scheme’. On account of earlier judicial pronouncements,
there was a cleavage of opinions and to reconcile this divergence of
views, it became necessary for the reference to be made to a nineJudges
Bench.
8. It is nobody’s case that privacy is not a valuable right, but the
moot point is whether it is only a common law right or achieves the
status of a fundamental right under the Grundnorm – the Indian
5
Constitution. We have been ably assisted by various senior counsels
both for and against the proposition as to whether privacy is a
Constitutional right or not.
PRIVACY
9. In the words of Lord Action:
“the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for
among old parchments of musty records. They are written,
as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature,
by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be obscured by
mortal power1
.”
10. Privacy is an inherent right. It is thus not given, but already exists.
It is about respecting an individual and it is undesirable to ignore a
person’s wishes without a compelling reason to do so.
11. The right to privacy may have different aspects starting from ‘the
right to be let alone’ in the famous article by Samuel Warren and Louis
D. Brandeis 2
. One such aspect is an individual’s right to control
dissemination of his personal information. There is nothing wrong in
individuals limiting access and their ability to shield from unwanted
access. This aspect of the right to privacy has assumed particular
1
The History of Freedom and Other Essays (1907), p 587
2
The Right to Privacy 4 HLR 193
6
significance in this information age and in view of technological
improvements. A person-hood would be a protection of one’s
personality, individuality and dignity.3
However, no right is unbridled
and so is it with privacy. We live in a society/ community. Hence,
restrictions arise from the interests of the community, state and from
those of others. Thus, it would be subject to certain restrictions which I
will revert to later.
PRIVACY & TECHNOLOGY
12. We are in an information age. With the growth and
development of technology, more information is now easily available.
The information explosion has manifold advantages but also some
disadvantages. The access to information, which an individual may not
want to give, needs the protection of privacy.
The right to privacy is claimed qua the State and non-State actors.
Recognition and enforcement of claims qua non-state actors may
require legislative intervention by the State.
3
Daniel Solove, ’10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters’ published on January 20, 2014
https://www.teachprivacy.com/10-reasons-privacy-matters/
7
A. Privacy Concerns Against The State
13. The growth and development of technology has created new
instruments for the possible invasion of privacy by the State, including
through surveillance, profiling and data collection and processing.
Surveillance is not new, but technology has permitted surveillance in
ways that are unimaginable. Edward Snowden shocked the world with
his disclosures about global surveillance. States are utilizing technology
in the most imaginative ways particularly in view of increasing global
terrorist attacks and heightened public safety concerns. One such
technique being adopted by States is ‘profiling’. The European Union
Regulation of 20164
on data privacy defines ‘Profiling’ as any form of
automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal
data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in
particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person's
performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences,
4
Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of
natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and
repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation)
8
interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements5
. Such profiling
can result in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and caste.
However, ‘profiling’ can also be used to further public interest and for
the benefit of national security.
14. The security environment, not only in our country, but
throughout the world makes the safety of persons and the State a
matter to be balanced against this right to privacy.
B. Privacy Concerns Against Non-State Actors
15. The capacity of non-State actors to invade the home and privacy
has also been enhanced. Technological development has facilitated
journalism that is more intrusive than ever before.
16. Further, in this digital age, individuals are constantly generating
valuable data which can be used by non-State actors to track their
moves, choices and preferences. Data is generated not just by active
sharing of information, but also passively, with every click on the ‘world
5
Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of
natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and
repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation)
9
wide web’. We are stated to be creating an equal amount of information
every other day, as humanity created from the beginning of recorded
history to the year 2003 – enabled by the ‘world wide web’.6
17. Recently, it was pointed out that “‘Uber’, the world’s largest taxi
company, owns no vehicles. ‘Facebook’, the world’s most popular media
owner, creates no content. ‘Alibaba’, the most valuable retailer, has no
inventory. And ‘Airbnb’, the world’s largest accommodation provider,
owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”7
‘Uber’ knows
our whereabouts and the places we frequent. ‘Facebook’ at the least,
knows who we are friends with. ‘Alibaba’ knows our shopping habits.
‘Airbnb’ knows where we are travelling to. Social networks providers,
search engines, e-mail service providers, messaging applications are all
further examples of non-state actors that have extensive knowledge of
our movements, financial transactions, conversations – both personal
and professional, health, mental state, interest, travel locations, fares
and shopping habits. As we move towards becoming a digital economy
6Michael L. Rustad, SannaKulevska, Reconceptualizing the right to be forgotten to enable transatlantic data flow,
28 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 349
7
https://techcrunch.com/2015/03/03/in-the-age-of-disintermediation-the-battle-is-all-for-the-customer-interface/
Tom Goodwin ‘The Battle is for Customer Interface’
10
and increase our reliance on internet based services, we are creating
deeper and deeper digital footprints – passively and actively.
18. These digital footprints and extensive data can be analyzed
computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially
relating to human behavior and interactions and hence, is valuable
information. This is the age of ‘big data’. The advancement in technology
has created not just new forms of data, but also new methods of
analysing the data and has led to the discovery of new uses for data. The
algorithms are more effective and the computational power has
magnified exponentially. A large number of people would like to keep
such search history private, but it rarely remains private, and is collected,
sold and analysed for purposes such as targeted advertising. Of course,
‘big data’ can also be used to further public interest. There may be cases
where collection and processing of big data is legitimate and
proportionate, despite being invasive of privacy otherwise.
19. Knowledge about a person gives a power over that person. The
personal data collected is capable of effecting representations,
influencing decision making processes and shaping behaviour. It can be
11
used as a tool to exercise control over us like the ‘big brother’ State
exercised. This can have a stultifying effect on the expression of dissent
and difference of opinion, which no democracy can afford.
20. Thus, there is an unprecedented need for regulation regarding
the extent to which such information can be stored, processed and used
by non-state actors. There is also a need for protection of such
information from the State. Our Government was successful in
compelling Blackberry to give to it the ability to intercept data sent over
Blackberry devices. While such interception may be desirable and
permissible in order to ensure national security, it cannot be
unregulated.8
21. The concept of ‘invasion of privacy’ is not the early conventional
thought process of ‘poking ones nose in another person’s affairs’. It is
not so simplistic. In today’s world, privacy is a limit on the government’s
power as well as the power of private sector entities.9
8
Kadhim Shubber, Blackberry gives Indian Government ability to intercept messages published by Wired on 11 July,
2013 http://www.wired.co.uk/article/blackberry-india
9
Daniel Solove, ’10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters’ published on January 20, 2014
https://www.teachprivacy.com/10-reasons-privacy-matters/
12
22. George Orwell created a fictional State in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’
Today, it can be a reality. The technological development today can
enable not only the state, but also big corporations and private entities
to be the ‘big brother’.
The Constitution of India - A Living Document
23. The Constitutional jurisprudence of all democracies in the
world, in some way or the other, refer to ‘the brooding spirit of the law’,
‘the collective conscience’, ‘the intelligence of a future day’, ‘the heaven
of freedom’ , etc. The spirit is justice for all, being the cherished value.
24. This spirit displays many qualities, and has myriad ways of
expressing herself – at times she was liberty, at times dignity. She was
equality, she was fraternity, reasonableness and fairness. She was in
Athens during the formative years of the demoscratos and she
manifested herself in England as the Magna Carta. Her presence was felt
in France during the Revolution, in America when it was being founded
and in South Africa during the times of Mandela.
13
25. In our country, she inspired our founding fathers – The Sovereign,
Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic of India was founded on her very
spirit.
26. During the times of the Constituent Assembly, the great
intellectuals of the day sought to give this brooding spirit a form, and
sought to invoke her in a manner that they felt could be understood,
applied and interpreted – they drafted the Indian Constitution.
27. In it they poured her essence, and gave to her a grand throne in
Part III of the Indian Constitution.
28. The document that they created had her everlasting blessings,
every part of the Constitution resonates with the spirit of Justice and what
it stands for: ‘peaceful, harmonious and orderly social living’. The
Constitution stands as a codified representation of the great spirit of
Justice itself. It is because it represents that Supreme Goodness that it has
been conferred the status of the Grundnorm, that it is the Supreme Legal
Document in the country.
29. The Constitution was not drafted for a specific time period or for a
certain generation, it was drafted to stand firm, for eternity. It sought to
14
create a Montesquian framework that would endear in both war time and
in peace time and in Ambedkar’s famous words, “if things go wrong under
the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad
Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.”10
30. It has already outlived its makers, and will continue to outlive our
generation, because it contains within its core, a set of undefinable values
and ideals that are eternal in nature. It is because it houses these values
so cherished by mankind that it lives for eternity, as a Divine Chiranjeevi.
31. The Constitution, importantly, was also drafted for the purpose of
assisting and at all times supporting this ‘peaceful, harmonious and
orderly social living’. The Constitution thus lives for the people. Its deepest
wishes are that civil society flourishes and there is a peaceful social order.
Any change in the sentiments of the people are recognised by it. It seeks
to incorporate within its fold all possible civil rights which existed in the
past, and those rights which may appear on the horizon of the future. It
endears. The Constitution was never intended to serve as a means to stifle
the protection of the valuable rights of its citizens. Its aim and purpose
was completely the opposite.
10 Dhananjay Keer, Dr.Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 [1954], p.410.)
15
32. The founders of the Constitution, were aware of the fact that the
Constitution would need alteration to keep up with the mores and trends
of the age. This was precisely the reason that an unrestricted amending
power was sought to be incorporated in the text of the Constitution in
Part 20 under Article 368. The very incorporation of such a plenary power
in a separate part altogether is prima facie proof that the Constitution,
even during the times of its making was intended to be a timeless
document, eternal in nature, organic and living.
33. Therefore, the theory of original intent itself supports the stand that
the original intention of the makers of the Constitutional was to ensure
that it does not get weighed down by the originalist
interpretations/remain static/fossilised, but changes and evolves to suit
the felt need of the times. The original intention theory itself
contemplates a Constitution which is organic in nature.
34. The then Chief Justice of India, Patanjali Sastri, in the State of West
Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar11 observed as follows:
“90. I find it impossible to read these portions of the
Constitution without regard to the background out of which
11 AIR 1952 SCR 284
16
they arose. I cannot blot out their history and omit from
consideration the brooding spirit of the times. They are not
just dull, lifeless words static and hide-bound as in some
mummified manuscript, but, living flames intended to give
life to a great nation and order its being, tongues of
dynamic fire, potent to mould the future as well as guide
the present. The Constitution must, in my judgment, be left
elastic enough to meet from time to time the altering
conditions of a changing world with its shifting emphasis
and differing needs.”
35. How the Constitution should be read and interpreted is best found
in the words of Khanna,J., in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala12 as
follows:
“1437. …. A Constitution is essentially different from
pleadings filed in Court of litigating parties. Pleadings
contain claim and counter-claim of private parties engaged
in litigation, while a Constitution provides for the
framework of the different organs of the State viz. the
executive, the legislature and the judiciary. A Constitution
also reflects the hopes and aspirations of a people. Besides
laying down the norms for the functioning of different
organs a Constitution encompasses within itself the broad
indications as to how the nation is to march forward in
times to come. A Constitution cannot be regarded as a
mere legal document to be read as a will or an agreement
nor is Constitution like a plaint or written statement filed in
a suit between two litigants. A Constitution must of
necessity be the vehicle of the life of a nation. It has also to
be borne in mind that a Constitution is not a gate but a
12 (1973) 4 SCC 225
17
road. Beneath the drafting of a Constitution is the
awareness that things do not stand still but move on, that
life of a progressive nation, as of an individual, is not static
and stagnant but dynamic and dashful. A Constitution must
therefore contain ample provision for experiment and trial
in the task of administration.
A Constitution, it needs to be emphasised, is not a
document for fastidious dialectics but the means of
ordering the life of a people. It had (sic) its roots in the
past, its continuity is reflected in the present and it is
intended for the unknown future. The words of Holmes
while dealing with the U.S. Constitution have equal
relevance for our Constitution. Said the great Judge:
“… the provisions of the Constitution are not mathematical
formulas having their essence in their form; they are
organic living institutions transplanted from English soil.
Their significance is vital not formal; it is to be gathered not
simply by taking the words and a dictionary, but by
considering their origin and the line of their growth.”
[See Gompers v. United States, 233 U.S. 604, 610 (1914)].
It is necessary to keep in view Marshall's great premises
that “It is a Constitution we are expounding”. To quote the
words of Felix Frankfurter in his tribute to Holmes:
“Whether the Constitution is treated primarily as a text for
interpretation or as an instrument of Government may
make all the difference in the word. The fate of cases, and
thereby of legislation, will turn on whether the meaning of
the document is derived from itself or from one's
conception of the country, its development, its needs, its
place in a civilized society.” (See Mr Justice Holmes edited
by Felix Frankfurter, p. 58). (Emphasis supplied)
18
36. In the same judgment, K.K. Mathew, J., observed :
1563 ... That the Constitution is a framework of great
governmental powers to be exercised for great public ends
in the future, is not a pale intellectual concept but a
dynamic idea which must dominate in any consideration of
the width of the amending power. No existing Constitution
has reached its final form and shape and become, as it
were a fixed thing incapable of further growth. Human
societies keep changing; needs emerge, first vaguely felt
and unexpressed, imperceptibly gathering strength,
steadily becoming more and more exigent, generating a
force which, if left unheeded and denied response so as to
satisfy the impulse behind it, may burst forthwith an
intensity that exacts more than reasonable satisfaction.
[See Felix Frankfurter, of Law and Men, p 35] As Wilson
said, a living Constitution must be Darwinian in structure
and practice. [See Constitutional Government in The
United States, p 25] The Constitution of a nation is the
outward and visible manifestation of the life of the people
and it must respond to the deep pulsation for change
within. “A Constitution is an experiment as all life is an
experiment.” [See Justice Holmes in Abrams v United
States, 250 US 616]…”
37. In the context of the necessity of the doctrine of flexibility while
dealing with the Constitution, it was observed in Union of India vs. Naveen
Jindal13
:
“39. Constitution being a living organ, its ongoing
interpretation is permissible. The supremacy of the
Constitution is essential to bring social changes in the
national polity evolved with the passage of time.
13 (2004) 2 SCC 510
19
40. Interpretation of the Constitution is a difficult task.
While doing so, the Constitutional courts are not only
required to take into consideration their own experience
over the time, the international treaties and covenants but
also keeping the doctrine of flexibility in mind. This Court
times without number has extended the scope and extent
of the provisions of the fundamental rights, having regard
to several factors including the intent and purport of the
Constitution-makers as reflected in Parts IV and IV-A of the
Constitution of India.”
38. The document itself, though inked in a parched paper of timeless
value, never grows old. Its ideals and values forever stay young and
energetic, forever changing with the times. It represents the pulse and
soul of the nation and like a phoenix, grows and evolves, but at the same
time remains young and malleable.
39. The notions of goodness, fairness, equality and dignity can never
be satisfactorily defined, they can only be experienced. They are felt.
They were let abstract for the reason that these rights, by their very
nature, are not static. They can never be certainly defined or applied, for
they change not only with time, but also with situations. The same
concept can be differently understood, applied and interpreted and
therein lies their beauty and their importance. This multiplicity of
interpretation and application is the very core which allows them to be
20
differently understood and applied in changing social and cultural
situations.
40. Therefore, these core values, these core principles, are all various
facets of the spirit that pervades our Constitution and they apply and
read differently in various scenarios. They manifest themselves differently
in different ages, situations and conditions. Though being rooted in
ancient Constitutional principles, they find mention and applicability as
different rights and social privileges. They appear differently, based on
the factual circumstance. Privacy, for example is nothing but a form of
dignity, which itself is a subset of liberty.
41. Thus, from the one great tree, there are branches, and from
these branches there are sub-branches and leaves. Every one of these
leaves are rights, all tracing back to the tree of justice. They are all
equally important and of equal need in the great social order. They
together form part of that ‘great brooding spirit’. Denial of one of them
is the denial of the whole, for these rights, in manner of speaking,
fertilise and nurture each other.
21
42. What is beautiful in this biological, organic growth is this: While the
tree appears to be great and magnificent, apparently incapable of further
growth, there are always new branches appearing, new leaves and buds
growing. These new rights, are the rights of future generations that
evolve over the passage of time to suit and facilitate the civility of
posterity. They are equally part of this tree of rights and equally trace
their origins to those natural rights which we are all born with. These
leaves, sprout and grow with the passage of time, just as certain rights
may get weeded out due to natural evolution.
43. At this juncture of time, we are incapable and it is nigh impossible
to anticipate and foresee what these new buds may be. There can be no
certainty in making this prediction. However, what remains certain is that
there will indeed be a continual growth of the great tree that we call the
Constitution. This beautiful aspect of the document is what makes it
organic, dynamic, young and everlasting. And it is important that the tree
grows further, for the Republic finds a shade under its branches.
44. The challenges to protect privacy have increased manifold. The
observations made in the context of the need for law to change, by
22
Bhagwati, J., as he then was, in National Textile Workers Union Vs. P.R.
Ramakrishnan 14 would equally apply to the requirements of
interpretation of the Constitution in the present context:
“We cannot allow the dead hand of the past to stifle the
growth of the living present. Law cannot stand still; it must
change with the changing social concepts and values. If the
bark that protects the tree fails to grow and expand along
with the tree, it will either choke the tree or if it is a living
tree, it will shed that bark and grow a new living bark for
itself. Similarly, if the law fails to respond to the needs of
changing society, then either it will stifle the growth of the
society and choke its progress or if the society is vigorous
enough, it will cast away the law which stands in the way of
its growth. Law must therefore constantly be on the move
adapting itself to the fast-changing society and not lag
behind.”

45. It is wrong to consider that the concept of the supervening spirit of
justice manifesting in different forms to cure the evils of a new age is
unknown to Indian history. Lord Shri Krishna declared in Chapter 4 Text 8 of
The Bhagavad Gita thus:
“पराणायसाधूनां वनाशायचदक
ु ृताम। ्
धमसंथापनाथाय सभवा!म यु
गे य
ुगे ||”
14 (1983) 1 SCC 228
23
46. The meaning of this profound statement, when viewed after a
thousand generations is this: That each age and each generation brings with
it the challenges and tribulations of the times. But that Supreme spirit of
Justice manifests itself in different eras, in different continents and in
different social situations, as different values to ensure that there always
exists the protection and preservation of certain eternally cherished rights
and ideals. It is a reflection of this divine ‘Brooding spirit of the law’, ‘the
collective conscience’, ‘the intelligence of a future day’ that has found
mention in the ideals enshrined in inter- alia, Article 14 and 21, which
together serve as the heart stones of the Constitution. The spirit that finds
enshrinement in these articles manifests and reincarnates itself in ways
and forms that protect the needs of the society in various ages, as the
values of liberty, equality, fraternity, dignity, and various other
Constitutional values, Constitutional principles. It always grows stronger
and covers within its sweep the great needs of the times. This spirit can
neither remain dormant nor static and can never be allowed to fossilise.
47. An issue like privacy could never have been anticipated to acquire
such a level of importance when the Constitution was being contemplated.
24
Yet, today, the times we live in necessitate that it be recognised not only as
a valuable right, but as a right Fundamental in Constitutional jurisprudence.
48. There are sure to be times in the future, similar to our experience
today, perhaps as close as 10 years from today or as far off as a 100 years,
when we will debate and deliberate whether a certain right is fundamental
or not. At that time it must be understood that the Constitution was always
meant to be an accommodative and all-encompassing document, framed to
cover in its fold all those rights that are most deeply cherished and required
for a ‘peaceful, harmonious and orderly social living.
49. The Constitution and its all-encompassing spirit forever grows, but
never ages.
Privacy is essential to liberty and dignity
50. Rohinton F. Nariman, J., and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud J., have
emphasized the importance of the protection of privacy to ensure
protection of liberty and dignity. I agree with them and seek to refer to
some legal observations in this regard:
25
In Robertson and Nicol on Media Law15 it was observed:
“Individuals have a psychological need to preserve an
intrusion-free zone for their personality and family and
suffer anguish and stress when that zone is violated.
Democratic societies must protect privacy as part of their
facilitation of individual freedom, and offer some legal
support for the individual choice as to what aspects of
intimate personal life the citizen is prepared to share with
others. This freedom in other words springs from the same
source as freedom of expression: a liberty that enhances
individual life in a democratic community.”
51. Lord Nicholls and Lord Hoffmann in their opinion in Naomi
Campbell’s case16 recognized the importance of the protection of privacy.
Lord Hoffman opined as under:
“50. What human rights law has done is to identify private
information as something worth protecting as an aspect of
human autonomy and dignity. And this recognition has
raised inescapably the question of why it should be worth
protecting against the state but not against a private
person. There may of course be justifications for the
publication of private information by private persons which
would not be available to the state - I have particularly in
mind the position of the media, to which I shall return in a
moment - but I can see no logical ground for saying that a
person should have less protection against a private
individual than he would have against the state for the
15 Geoffrey Robertson, QC and Andrew Nicol, QC, Media Law fifth edition p. 265
16 Campbell V. MGN Ltd.2004 UKHL 22
26
publication of personal information for which there is no
justification. Nor, it appears, have any of the other judges
who have considered the matter.
51. The result of these developments has been a shift in the
centre of gravity of the action for breach of confidence
when it is used as a remedy for the unjustified publication of
personal information. …. Instead of the cause of action
being based upon the duty of good faith applicable to
confidential personal information and trade secrets alike, it
focuses upon the protection of human autonomy and
dignity - the right to control the dissemination of
information about one's private life and the right to the
esteem and respect of other people.”
Lord Nicholls opined as under:
“12. The present case concerns one aspect of invasion of
privacy: wrongful disclosure of private information. The
case involves the familiar competition between freedom of
expression and respect for an individual's privacy. Both are
vitally important rights. Neither has precedence over the
other. The importance of freedom of expression has been
stressed often and eloquently, the importance of privacy
less so. But it, too, lies at the heart of liberty in a modern
state. A proper degree of privacy is essential for the wellbeing
and development of an individual. And restraints
imposed on government to pry into the lives of the citizen
go to the essence of a democratic state: see La Forest J in R
v Dymont [1988] 2 SCR 417, 426.”
52. Privacy is also the key to freedom of thought. A person has a right to
think. The thoughts are sometimes translated into speech but confined to
the person to whom it is made. For example, one may want to criticize
someone but not share the criticism with the world.
27
Privacy – Right To Control Information
53. I had earlier adverted to an aspect of privacy – the right to
control dissemination of personal information. The boundaries that
people establish from others in society are not only physical but also
informational. There are different kinds of boundaries in respect to
different relations. Privacy assists in preventing awkward social
situations and reducing social frictions. Most of the information about
individuals can fall under the phrase “none of your business”. On
information being shared voluntarily, the same may be said to be in
confidence and any breach of confidentiality is a breach of the trust.
This is more so in the professional relationships such as with doctors and
lawyers which requires an element of candor in disclosure of
information. An individual has the right to control one’s life while
submitting personal data for various facilities and services. It is but
essential that the individual knows as to what the data is being used for
with the ability to correct and amend it. The hallmark of freedom in a
democracy is having the autonomy and control over our lives which
28
becomes impossible, if important decisions are made in secret without
our awareness or participation.17
54. Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., notes that recognizing a zone of privacy
is but an acknowledgement that each individual must be entitled to
chart and pursue the course of development of their personality.
Rohinton F. Nariman,J., recognizes informational privacy which
recognizes that an individual may have control over the dissemination of
material which is personal to him. Recognized thus, from the right to
privacy in this modern age emanate certain other rights such as the right
of individuals to exclusively commercially exploit their identity and
personal information, to control the information that is available about
them on the ‘world wide web’ and to disseminate certain personal
information for limited purposes alone.
55. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in 1890 expressed the belief
that an individual should control the degree and type of private –
personal information that is made public :
17 Daniel Solove, ’10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters’ published on January 20, 2014
https://www.teachprivacy.com/10-reasons-privacy-matters/
29
“The common law secures to each individual the right of
determining, ordinarily, to what extent his thoughts,
sentiments, and emotions shall be communicated to
others.... It is immaterial whether it be by word or by signs,
in painting, by sculpture, or in music.... In every such case
the individual is entitled to decide whether that which is his
shall be given to the public.”
This formulation of the right to privacy has particular relevance in
today’s information and digital age.
56. An individual has a right to protect his reputation from being
unfairly harmed and such protection of reputation needs to exist not
only against falsehood but also certain truths. It cannot be said that a
more accurate judgment about people can be facilitated by knowing
private details about their lives – people judge us badly, they judge us in
haste, they judge out of context, they judge without hearing the whole
story and they judge with hypocrisy. Privacy lets people protect
themselves from these troublesome judgments18
.
57. There is no justification for making all truthful information
available to the public. The public does not have an interest in knowing
18 Daniel Solove, ’10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters’ published on January 20, 2014
https://www.teachprivacy.com/10-reasons-privacy-matters/
30
all information that is true. Which celebrity has had sexual relationships
with whom might be of interest to the public but has no element of
public interest and may therefore be a breach of privacy.19 Thus, truthful
information that breaches privacy may also require protection.
58. Every individual should have a right to be able to exercise control
over his/her own life and image as portrayed to the world and to control
commercial use of his/her identity. This also means that an individual
may be permitted to prevent others from using his image, name and
other aspects of his/her personal life and identity for commercial
purposes without his/her consent.20
59. Aside from the economic justifications for such a right, it is also
justified as protecting individual autonomy and personal dignity. The
right protects an individual’s free, personal conception of the ‘self.’ The
right of publicity implicates a person’s interest in autonomous self-
19 The UK Courts granted in super-injunctions to protect privacy of certain celebrities by tabloids which meant that
not only could the private information not be published but the very fact of existence of that case & injunction
could also not be published.
20 The Second Circuit’s decision in Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum. 202 F.2d 866 (2d Cir. 1953) penned
by Judge Jerome Frank defined the right to publicity as “the right to grant the exclusive privilege of publishing his
picture”.
31
definition, which prevents others from interfering with the meanings
and values that the public associates with her.21
60. Prosser categorized the invasion of privacy into four separate torts22
:
1) Unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another;
2) Appropriation of another’s name or likeness;
3) Unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life; and
4) Publicity that unreasonably places the other in a false light before
the public
From the second tort, the U.S. has adopted a right to publicity.23
61. In the poetic words of Felicia Lamport mentioned in the book
“The Assault on Privacy24” :
“DEPRIVACY
Although we feel unknown, ignored
As unrecorded blanks,
Take heart! Our vital selves are stored
In giant data banks,
Our childhoods and maturities,
Efficiently compiled,
Our Stocks and insecurities,
All permanently filed,
21Mark P. McKenna, The Right of Publicity and Autonomous Self-Definition, 67 U. PITT. L. REV. 225, 282 (2005).
22William L. Prosser, Privacy, 48 CAL. L. REV. 383 (1960)
23 the scope of the right to publicity varies across States in the U.S.
24 Arthur R. Miller, The University of Michigan Press
32
Our tastes and our proclivities,
In gross and in particular,
Our incomes, our activities
Both extra-and curricular.
And such will be our happy state
Until the day we die
When we’ll be snatched up by the great
Computer in the Sky”
INFORMATIONAL PRIVACY
62. The right of an individual to exercise control over his personal
data and to be able to control his/her own life would also encompass
his right to control his existence on the internet. Needless to say that
this would not be an absolute right.The existence of such a right does
not imply that a criminal can obliterate his past, but that there are
variant degrees of mistakes, small and big, and it cannot be said that a
person should be profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know.
63. A high school teacher was fired after posting on her Facebook
page that she was “so not looking forward to another [school] year”
since that the school district’s residents were “arrogant and snobby”. A
flight attended was fired for posting suggestive photos of herself in the
33
company’s uniform.25 In the pre-digital era, such incidents would have
never occurred. People could then make mistakes and embarrass
themselves, with the comfort that the information will be typically
forgotten over time.
64. The impact of the digital age results in information on the internet
being permanent. Humans forget, but the internet does not forget and
does not let humans forget. Any endeavour to remove information
from the internet does not result in its absolute obliteration. The foot
prints remain. It is thus, said that in the digital world preservation is
the norm and forgetting a struggle26
.
65. The technology results almost in a sort of a permanent storage in
some way or the other making it difficult to begin life again giving up
past mistakes. People are not static, they change and grow through
their lives. They evolve. They make mistakes. But they are entitled to
re-invent themselves and reform and correct their mistakes. It is
25 Patricia Sánchez Abril, Blurred Boundaries: Social Media Privacy and the Twenty-First-Century Employee, 49 AM.
BUS. L.J. 63, 69 (2012).
26 Ravi Antani, THE RESISTANCE OF MEMORY : COULD THE EUROPEAN UNION’S RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN EXIST IN
THE UNITED STATES ?
34
privacy which nurtures this ability and removes the shackles of
unadvisable things which may have been done in the past.
66. Children around the world create perpetual digital footprints on
social network websites on a 24/7 basis as they learn their ‘ABCs’:
Apple, Bluetooth, and Chat followed by Download, E-Mail, Facebook,
Google, Hotmail, and Instagram.27 They should not be subjected to the
consequences of their childish mistakes and naivety, their entire life.
Privacy of children will require special protection not just in the context
of the virtual world, but also the real world.
67. People change and an individual should be able to determine the
path of his life and not be stuck only on a path of which he/she treaded
initially. An individual should have the capacity to change his/her
beliefs and evolve as a person. Individuals should not live in fear that
the views they expressed will forever be associated with them and thus
refrain from expressing themselves.
27Michael L. Rustad, Sanna Kulevska, Reconceptualizing the right to be forgotten to enable transatlantic data flow,
28 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 349
35
68. Whereas this right to control dissemination of personal
information in the physical and virtual space should not amount to a
right of total eraser of history, this right, as a part of the larger right of
privacy, has to be balanced against other fundamental rights like the
freedom of expression, or freedom of media, fundamental to a
democratic society.
69. Thus, The European Union Regulation of 201628 has recognized
what has been termed as ‘the right to be forgotten’. This does not
mean that all aspects of earlier existence are to be obliterated, as some
may have a social ramification. If we were to recognize a similar right, it
would only mean that an individual who is no longer desirous of his
personal data to be processed or stored, should be able to remove it
from the system where the personal data/ information is no longer
necessary, relevant, or is incorrect and serves no legitimate interest.
Such a right cannot be exercised where the information/ data is
necessary, for exercising the right of freedom of expression and
information, for compliance with legal obligations, for the
28 Supra
36
performance of a task carried out in public interest, on the grounds of
public interest in the area of public health, for archiving purposes in
the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or
statistical purposes, or for the establishment, exercise or defence of
legal claims. Such justifications would be valid in all cases of breach of
privacy, including breaches of data privacy.
Data Regulation
70. I agree with Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., that formulation of data
protection is a complex exercise which needs to be undertaken by the
State after a careful balancing of privacy concerns and legitimate State
interests, including public benefit arising from scientific and historical
research based on data collected and processed. The European Union
Regulation of 201629 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the
processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data
may provide useful guidance in this regard. The State must ensure that
29 Supra
37
information is not used without the consent of users and that it is used
for the purpose and to the extent it was disclosed. Thus, for e.g. , if the
posting on social media websites is meant only for a certain audience,
which is possible as per tools available, then it cannot be said that all
and sundry in public have a right to somehow access that information
and make use of it.
Test: Principle of Proportionality and Legitimacy
71. The concerns expressed on behalf of the petitioners arising from
the possibility of the State infringing the right to privacy can be met by
the test suggested for limiting the discretion of the State:
“ (i) The action must be sanctioned by law;
(ii) The proposed action must be necessary in a democratic
society for a legitimate aim;
(iii) The extent of such interference must be proportionate to
the need for such interference;
(iv) There must be procedural guarantees against abuse of such
interference.”
The Restrictions
38
72. The right to privacy as already observed is not absolute. The right
to privacy as falling in part III of the Constitution may, depending on its
variable facts, vest in one part or the other, and would thus be subject
to the restrictions of exercise of that particular fundamental right.
National security would thus be an obvious restriction, so would the
provisos to different fundamental rights, dependent on where the right
to privacy would arise. The Public interest element would be another
aspect.
73. It would be useful to turn to The European Union Regulation of
201630 . Restrictions of the right to privacy may be justifiable in the
following circumstances subject to the principle of proportionality:
(a) Other fundamental rights: The right to privacy must be
considered in relation to its function in society and be
balanced against other fundamental rights.
(b) Legitimate national security interest
(c) Public interest including scientific or historical research
purposes or statistical purposes
30 Supra
39
(d) Criminal Offences: the need of the competent authorities
for prevention investigation, prosecution of criminal
offences including safeguards against threat to public
security;
(e) The unidentifiable data: the information does not relate to
identifiedor identifiable natural person but remains
anonymous. The European Union Regulation of
2016 31 refers to ‘pseudonymisation’ which means the
processing of personal data in such a manner that the
personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific data
subject without the use of additional information,
provided that such additional information is kept
separately and is subject to technical and organisational
measures to ensure that the personal data are not
attributed to an identified or identifiable natural person;
(f) The tax etc: the regulatory framework of tax and working
of financial institutions, markets may require disclosure of
private information. But then this would not entitle the
disclosure of the information to all and sundry and there
should be data protection rules according to the objectives
of the processing. There may however, be processing
which is compatible for the purposes for which it is initially
collected.
Report of Group of Experts on Privacy
74. It is not as if the aspect of privacy has not met with concerns. The
Planning Commission of India constituted the Group of Experts on Privacy
31 Supra
40
under the Chairmanship of Justice A.P. Shah, which submitted a report on
16 October, 2012. The five salient features, in his own words, are as
follows:
“1. Technological Neutrality and Interoperability with
International Standards: The Group agreed that any
proposed framework for privacy legislation must be
technologically neutral and interoperable with international
standards. Specifically the Privacy Act should not make any
reference to specific technologies and must be generic
enough such that the principles and enforcement
mechanisms remain adaptable to changes in society, the
marketplace, technology, and the government. To do this it
is important to closely harmonise the right to privacy with
multiple international regimes, create trust and facilitate cooperation
between national and international stakeholders
and provide equal and adequate levels of protection to data
processed inside India as well as outside it. In doing so, the
framework should recognise that data has economic value,
and that global data flows generate value for the individual
as data creator, and for businesses that collect and process
such data. Thus, one of the focuses of the framework
should be on inspiring the trust of global clients and their
end users, without compromising the interests of domestic
customers in enhancing their privacy protection.
2. Multi-Dimensional Privacy: This report recognises the
right to privacy in its multiple dimensions. A framework on
the right to privacy in India must include privacy-related
concerns around data protection on the internet and
challenges emerging therefrom, appropriate protection
from unauthorised interception, audio and video
surveillance, use of personal identifiers, bodily privacy
including DNA as well as physical privacy, which are crucial
in establishing a national ethos for privacy protection,
41
though the specific forms such protection will take must
remain flexible to address new and emerging concerns.
3. Horizontal Applicability: The Group agreed that any
proposed privacy legislation must apply both to the
government as well as to the private sector. Given that the
international trend is towards a set of unified norms
governing both the private and public sector, and both
sectors process large amounts of data in India, it is
imperative to bring both within the purview of the
proposed legislation.
4. Conformity with Privacy Principles: This report
recommends nine fundamental Privacy Principles to form
the bedrock of the proposed Privacy Act in India. These
principles, drawn from best practices internationally, and
adapted suitably to an Indian context, are intended to
provide the baseline level of privacy protection to all
individual data subjects. The fundamental philosophy
underlining the principles is the need to hold the data
controller accountable for the collection, processing and
use to which the data is put thereby ensuring that the
privacy of the data subject is guaranteed.
5. Co-Regulatory Enforcement Regime: This report
recommends the establishment of the office of the Privacy
Commissioner, both at the central and regional levels. The
Privacy Commissioners shall be the primary authority for
enforcement of the provisions of the Act. However, rather
than prescribe a pure top-down approach to enforcement,
this report recommends a system of co-regulation, with
equal emphasis on Self-Regulating Organisations (SROs)
being vested with the responsibility of autonomously
ensuring compliance with the Act, subject to regular
oversight by the Privacy Commissioners. The SROs, apart
from possessing industry-specific knowledge, will also be
better placed to create awareness about the right to
privacy and explaining the sensitivities of privacy protection
both within industry as well as to the public in respective
42
sectors. This recommendation of a co-regulatory regime
will not derogate from the powers of courts which will be
available as a forum of last resort in case of persistent and
unresolved violations of the Privacy Act.”
75. The enactment of a law on the subject is still awaited. This was
preceded by the Privacy Bill of the year of 2005 but there appears to have
been little progress. It was only in the course of the hearing that we were
presented with an office memorandum of the Ministry of Electronics and
Information Technology dated 31.7.2017, through which a Committee of
Experts had been constituted to deliberate on a data protection
framework for India, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice B.N.
Srikrishna, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, in order to
identify key data protection issues in India and recommend methods of
addressing them. So there is hope !
76. The aforesaid aspect has been referred to for purposes that the
concerns about privacy have been left unattended for quite some time
and thus an infringement of the right of privacy cannot be left to be
formulated by the legislature. It is a primal natural right which is only
being recognized as a fundamental right falling in part III of the
Constitution of India.
43
CONCLUSION
77. The right of privacy is a fundamental right. It is a right which
protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both
State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make
autonomous life choices.
78. It was rightly expressed on behalf of the petitioners that the
technology has made it possible to enter a citizen’s house without
knocking at his/her door and this is equally possible both by the State and
non-State actors. It is an individual’s choice as to who enters his house,
how he lives and in what relationship. The privacy of the home must
protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are
all important aspects of dignity.
79. If the individual permits someone to enter the house it does not
mean that others can enter the house. The only check and balance is
that it should not harm the other individual or affect his or her rights.
This applies both to the physical form and to technology. In an era where
there are wide, varied, social and cultural norms and more so in a country
like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most
44
important rights to be protected both against State and non-State actors
and be recognized as a fundamental right. How it thereafter works out in
its inter-play with other fundamental rights and when such restrictions
would become necessary would depend on the factual matrix of each
case. That it may give rise to more litigation can hardly be the reason not
to recognize this important, natural, primordial right as a fundamental
right.
80. There are two aspects of the opinion of Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud,J.,
one of which is common to the opinion of Rohinton F. Nariman,J.,
needing specific mention. While considering the evolution of
Constitutional jurisprudence on the right of privacy he has referred to the
judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal Vs. Naz Foundation.
32 In the challenge
laid to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code before the Delhi High Court,
one of the grounds of challenge was that the said provision amounted to
an infringement of the right to dignity and privacy. The Delhi High Court,
inter alia, observed that the right to live with dignity and the right of
privacy both are recognized as dimensions of Article 21 of the
Constitution of India. The view of the High Court, however did not find

32 (2014) 1 SCC 1
45
favour with the Supreme Court and it was observed that only a miniscule
fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals
or transgenders and thus, there cannot be any basis for declaring the
Section ultra virus of provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the
Constitution. The matter did not rest at this, as the issue of privacy and
dignity discussed by the High Court was also observed upon. The sexual
orientation even within the four walls of the house thus became an
aspect of debate. I am in agreement with the view of Dr. D.Y.
Chandrachud, J., who in paragraphs 123 & 124 of his judgment, states
that the right of privacy cannot be denied, even if there is a miniscule
fraction of the population which is affected. The majoritarian concept
does not apply to Constitutional rights and the Courts are often called up
on to take what may be categorized as a non-majoritarian view, in the
check and balance of power envisaged under the Constitution of India.
Ones sexual orientation is undoubtedly an attribute of privacy. The
observations made in Mosley vs. News Group Papers Ltd. 33, in a broader
concept may be usefully referred to:

33 (2008) EWHS 1777 (QB)
46
“130… It is not simply a matter of personal privacy versus
the public interest. The modern perception is that there is a
public interest in respecting personal privacy. It is thus a
question of taking account of conflicting public interest
considerations and evaluating them according to
increasingly well recognized criteria.
131. When the courts identify an infringement of a
person’s Article 8 rights, and in particular in the context of
his freedom to conduct his sex life and personal
relationships as he wishes, it is right to afford a remedy and
to vindicate that right. The only permitted exception is
where there is a countervailing public interest which in the
particular circumstances is strong enough to outweigh it;
that is to say, because one at least of the established
“limiting principles” comes into play. Was it necessary and
proportionate for the intrusion to take place, for example,
in order to expose illegal activity or to prevent the public
from being significantly misled by public claims hitherto
made by the individual concerned (as with Naomi
Campbell’s public denials of drug-taking)? Or was it
necessary because the information, in the words of the
Strasbourg court in Von Hannover at (60) and (76), would
make a contribution to “a debate of general interest”? That
is, of course, a very high test, it is yet to be determined how
far that doctrine will be taken in the courts of this
jurisdiction in relation to photography in public places. If
taken literally, it would mean a very significant change in
what is permitted. It would have a profound effect on the
tabloid and celebrity culture to which we have become
accustomed in recent years.”
81. It is not necessary to delve into this issue further, other than in the
context of privacy as that would be an issue to be debated before the
appropriate Bench, the matter having been referred to a larger Bench.
47
82. The second aspect is the discussion in respect of the majority
judgment in the case of ADM Jabalpur vs. Shivkant Shukla34 in both the
opinions. In I.R. Coelho Vs. The State of Tamil Nadu35 it was observed
that the ADM Jabalpur case has been impliedly overruled and that the
supervening event was the 44th Amendment to the Constitution,
amending Article 359 of the Constitution. I fully agree with the view
expressly overruling the ADM Jabalpur case which was an aberration in
the constitutional jurisprudence of our country and the desirability of
burying the majority opinion ten fathom deep, with no chance of
resurrection.
83. Let the right of privacy, an inherent right, be unequivocally a
fundamental right embedded in part-III of the Constitution of India, but
subject to the restrictions specified, relatable to that part. This is the call
of today. The old order changeth yielding place to new.

……………………………………..J.
(SANJAY KISHAN KAUL)
New Delhi
August 24 , 2017.

34 (1976) 2 SCC 521
35 (2007) 2 SCC 1
1

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 2012
JUSTICE K.S.PUTTASWAMY (RETD.),
AND ANR. ..Petitioners
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. ..Respondents
WITH
T.C. (CIVIL) NO 151 OF 2013
T.C. (CIVIL) NO 152 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 833 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 829 OF 2013
W.P.(CIVIL) NO 932 OF 2013
REPORTABLE
2
CONMT. PET. (CIVIL) NO 144 OF 2014 IN W.P.(C)NO.494/2012
T.P.(CIVIL) NO 313 OF 2014
T.P.(CIVIL) NO 312 OF 2014
S.L.P(CRL.)NO.2524/2014
W.P.(CIVIL)NO.37/2015
W.P.(CIVIL)NO.220/2015
CONMT. PET. (C)NO.674/2015 IN W.P.(C)NO.829/2013
T.P.(CIVIL)NO.921/2015
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.470/2015 IN W.P.(C)NO.494/2012
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.444/2016 IN W.P.(C)NO.494/2012
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.608/2016 IN W.P.(C)NO.494/2012
W.P.(CIVIL)NO.797/2016
CONMT.PET.(C)NO.844/2017 IN W.P.(C)NO.494/2012
W.P.(C) NO.342/2017
AND WITH W.P.(C)NO.000372/2017
3
ORDER OF THE COURT
1 The judgment on behalf of the Hon’ble Chief Justice Shri Justice Jagdish
Singh Khehar, Shri Justice R K Agrawal, Shri Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Dr
Justice D Y Chandrachud was delivered by Dr Justice D Y Chandrachud. Shri
Justice J Chelameswar, Shri Justice S A Bobde, Shri Justice Abhay Manohar
Sapre, Shri Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Shri Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul
delivered separate judgments.
2 The reference is disposed of in the following terms:
(i) The decision in M P Sharma which holds that the right to privacy is not
protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;
(ii) The decision in Kharak Singh to the extent that it holds that the right to
privacy is not protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;
(iii) The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and
personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed
by Part III of the Constitution.

4
(iv) Decisions subsequent to Kharak Singh which have enunciated the position
in (iii) above lay down the correct position in law.
........................................................CJI
[JAGDISH SINGH KHEHAR]
……...….............................................J
[J CHELAMESWAR]
..…….................................................J
[S A BOBDE]
.........................................................J
[R K AGRAWAL]
….…..................................................J
[ROHINTON FALI NARIMAN]
….……...............................................J
[ABHAY MANOHAR SAPRE]
............................................................J
[Dr D Y CHANDRACHUD]
............................................................J
[SANJAY KISHAN KAUL]
….........................................................J
[S ABDUL NAZEER]
New Delhi;
AUGUST 24, 2017